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The Associated Press March 9, 2011, 9:27AM ET

Alabama gets $16M from BP for tourism ads

Alabama is getting $16 million from BP PLC for a three-year advertising campaign designed to lure tourists back to Alabama beaches after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Gov. Robert Bentley announced Tuesday.

Bentley called last year's BP oil spill "the greatest manmade disaster that has hit America," and said he believes Alabama suffered more economic and ecological damage than other states. But he said the beaches and water are now immaculate, and the money will help spread that message to residents of the Southeast, who make up the majority of summer tourists.

"We're proud to say Mobile County and Baldwin County are open for business. If we can get people back down there this summer we are going to be OK," he said.

Bentley said he plans to spend three days in the Fort Morgan area next week.

Luke Keller, executive vice president of the Gulf Coast Recovery Organization, said BP has provided $38 million to support Alabama tourism since the spill.

The Alabama Department of Tourism will administer the money with advice from a panel of Gulf Coast tourism and real estate officials. The $16 million will go for grants for tourism promotion projects, Bentley said.

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said winter "snow bird" business and spring break reservations both look good. The test, he said, will be summer trips by families that want their children to enjoy the water.

"We've got to convince them it is safe and clear, and it is," he said.

Having extra money for advertising for the next three years will get that message to more people, Craft said.

Bentley said the money from BP will have no impact on the state's negotiations with BP to recover tax receipts Alabama says it lost because of decreased tourism.

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