Florida Gulf Coast Parks Gaining Traction
Some RV parks and resorts along the Gulf Coast are reporting the beginnings of a slow economic recovery after seeing their business evaporate in the wake of the BP oil spill, according to a news release.
“We’re starting to see daylight,” said Tripp Keber, COO of Bella Terra Realty Holdings, which owns the 176-site Bella Terra in Gulf Shores, Ala. “We’re starting to see snowbird activity come back. I don’t think we’ll be back to normal this winter, but I think we’ll be in much better shape than we were (after the spill).”
Keber is hoping to achieve 50% occupancy at Bella Terra this winter. And while he still has a long way to go to achieve that figure, based on preseason bookings, the pace of reservations is picking up.
“It looks like we’re rebounding back to normal for the winter,” said Patrick O’Neill, general manager of Camping on the Gulf in Destin, Fla., adding that snowbirds are again returning to the Gulf.
But while the winter season is important economically to Camping on the Gulf, O’Neill said it pales in comparison to the summer season, when the beachfront resort typically generates 75 percent of its annual revenue.
O’Neill added that inaccurate and exaggerated news reporting involving the effects of the spill gutted his business throughout the summer months, even though tar balls only showed up briefly on three different days between April 20, when BP’s oil rig exploded, until Labor Day, when the company finally capped the leaking well.
“Between BP and the county, they had 1,300 workers combing 26 miles of our beaches, just looking for tar balls,” O’Neill said, adding, “They’d pick everything up by hand and in a couple of hours it looked like it never happened. It was more of a perception thing than actual damage.”
Even now, he said, the county and BP workers continue to patrol the beaches on ATVs making sure the beaches are clean.
But while some RV resorts are seeing their businesses gradually rebound, others say it will take a long time to recover.
“I think we’re going to be OK (this winter), but we don’t have the advance reservations we usually have,” said Michele Richard, owner of the 43-site Bay Hide Away RV Park and Campground in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Richard added that the negative publicity involving the oil spill took place during the summer months, when retirees typically make their reservations for the following winter. “There are some snowbirds that go from place to place that are not on a big schedule, but the ones that commit to stay three to six months plan in advance,” she said.
Still, Richard is seeing signs of resurgence in her business. “We have a lot of returning visitors and new ones coming in,” she said.