RVers Opting Against Florida Gulf Coast Parks
Hotels and condominiums along Florida’s Gulf Coast are not the only lodgings to see more cancellations and fewer reservations related to the BP oil spill.
Local RV parks and campgrounds have been hit equally hard, as tourists who would normally spend their summer vacationing in Northwest Florida have decided to travel elsewhere, The Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, reported.
“Lately, the last couple of months, the reservations have not been coming in as much, the cancellations have been crazy and we’re off 50%,” said Pat O’Neill, general manager of Camping on the Gulf in Walton County. “I’m normally turning people away (this time of year).
“The phones are ringing like crazy,” O’Neill added. “We’re actually busier than normal phone-wise. But it’s questions and reservations and cancellations, whereas normally it’s just reservations.”
While RV parks and campgrounds near the Gulf of Mexico have been the most impacted, nearly all locations in the Florida panhandle have seen a reduction in their occupancy, said Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
“Obviously it’s had an impact on the campgrounds, especially in the Destin, Panama City, Fort Walton area,” Cornwell said. “Their occupancy is averaging between 30% and 50%, and usually this time of year they’re full and turning customers away. It really has unfortunately had a big impact.”
Cornwell said a lot of campers who would normally come to Northwest Florida during the summer have traveled to South Florida instead. Some parks in parts of the state unaffected by the spill have seen up to 30% increases on their occupancy, he said.
Camping on the Gulf has spaces for 201 RVs and campers and an additional 19 cabins that can be rented out. Its employees have had to tackle hundreds of calls since the oil spill started from people concerned about their vacation.
Since May, Camping on the Gulf has updated its website daily with new pictures and videos of what the beaches look like and testimonials from people who are staying there. O’Neill said the web updates have been helpful in showing potential visitors that local beaches remain open and mostly free of any impacts from the spill, and that has kept some visitors from canceling their trips.
Ronnie Rodriguez, a Tom’s Brook, Va., resident who is vacationing with his kids, arrived at Camping on the Gulf June 17 and plans to stay through early July. Since arriving, he said there has been one day when there were tar balls on the beach, but crews worked quickly and efficiently to clean it up.
“I was concerned about coming down here but I decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me,” Rodriguez said. “I feel for the people down here. It’s not just about vacations. People make their living on the gulf. They wait all winter to make their living and now they can’t.”
Rodriguez has been visiting Camping on the Gulf at this time for years. He comes down with friends he’s met here who stay in contact throughout the year. Despite the oil spill, Rodriquez said everyone in his group of friends has kept their reservations for this year and he has already made his reservation to return next year.
Another family staying at Camping on the Gulf, Darrell and Julie Eschete of Cut Off, La., usually takes their camper to Gulf Shores, Ala., but decided to head farther east this year.
“(The oil is) not enough to keep us away from the water,” Darrell said. “It’s not to the point where it should be keeping tourists away. Destin still has a lot to do.”
The Fourth of July holiday has helped improve reservations at the Geronimo RV Resort at Miramar Beach, but the park still has vacancies when it would normally have vehicles parked in an overflow area.
“Business is down quite a bit due to cancellations, but I also think it’s people are waiting until the last minute to make reservations and see where the oil is at,” said Tom Arnett, manager of Geronimo RV Resort. “The media really hasn’t done us too many favors. It makes it sound like the whole state of Florida is under an oil slick.
“A lot of the phone calls I get, people want to know what the status of the beaches are, if they can still swim, if we’ve been affected. We have to keep telling them our beaches are still white, you can still swim.”