Beach + Island

Last-Chance Beaches

by Peter J. Frank

The Gulf of Mexico

While BP's Deepwater Horizon well was spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico this summer, predictions for the area's beaches were dire: sand covered in tar, sea life destroyed, water too toxic for swimming. The reality, thankfully, has turned out to be much less horrific. While there are still occasional reports of tiny tar balls or dead birds on beaches in the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana—and the full impact of the oil spill on the Gulf's ecology is still unknown—most of the region's beaches are still in good shape. But the Gulf's beaches are still under grave threat from the perception that the problem is much, much worse.

Respondents to a recent survey by Travelocity erroneously believed that the spill had affected locations as far afield as Cancún, the Florida Keys, and Miami, which is on the Atlantic Coast (landlocked Orlando was cited by 4 percent). "It reminds me of Mexico last year, when the border cities were having issues with drug-related violence, but the negative perceptions affected destinations all around Mexico," says Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor of Travelocity. Estimates of the economic impact on tourism are forthcoming, but innkeepers, fishing captains, and rental agents are already calling 2010 the "lost summer."

If you go: Many Gulf Coast hotels are guaranteeing an oil-free vacation: If a beach is closed within 20 miles of where you're staying, and you prefer to cancel, they'll refund your money. Participating hotels are listed at www.travelocity.com/oilspillinfo.

Next: More places to visit before it's too late >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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