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The Associated Press July 27, 2010, 9:03AM ET

Locke: More ads needed to boost coast tourism

The Gulf Coast tourism business needs more advertising money from BP PLC to bring back visitors staying away because of the oil spill, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Monday.

Tourism recovery will "take a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of money," and BP should be pressed to provide the money, Locke told the U.S. Tourism and Travel Advisory Board in New Orleans.

The oil company has given $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for tourism promotion, but that money has run out.

Although the oil spill has directly hit only a small portion of the coastal tourist business, some Florida resorts nowhere near petroleum are seeing 60 to 70 percent of their reservations canceled, said Steven Perry, head of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of the national tourism board.

Because it's seasonal business, the lost revenue cannot be made up, Perry said.

The U.S. Travel Association has proposed a BP-funded $500 million marketing program -- one that Oxford Economics said would reduce the toll by $7.5 billion.

The trade group also wanted an online site where travelers can learn which areas are safe and open for travel; tax deductions for travelers in the area; and low interest loans and tax incentives to encourage tourism businesses to remain open.

After the meeting, Locke said he would count on state and local tourism agencies to come up with a figure for a campaign much longer than the first one.

"It's obviously not a one-shot deal and one that needs to be reinforced for at least a couple of years," Locke said.

The BP-operated rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank 2 days later.

Oil from the resulting spill first arrived at the Louisiana mainland April 29, and later spread to tourism-sensitive beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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