Publisher's Letter

Here They Go Again
By Brian Rowland


This time last year, all one heard about was the never-ending doom and gloom over the oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well and how it was affecting the beaches and wildlife along the Gulf Coast, including Northwest Florida.

Turning on the TV, one would see the same oil-coated bird over and over again — along with the constant commentary about the oil heading toward the beaches and the expected tainting of the seafood supply.

In the end, other than a slight dusting of oil on the far western edges of the Florida coast, our area was mostly unaffected by the oil itself. Yet the perception that Florida’s beaches were covered with tar balls caused the bottom to fall out of our tourism-based economy. Phones rang off the hook with summer cancellations of resort and charter boat bookings and billions of dollars were lost during what is considered “the season” for our region.

By the end of summer, many coastal community businesses that directly rely on tourism for their survival were destroyed or suffered major economic setbacks. And there was a trickle down effect that impacted many other businesses throughout Northwest Florida.

The good news is that BP has stepped up in a big way over the past year, pouring billions into the region’s economic and environmental recovery efforts. And I have seen first-hand that it is working.

Spring Break was exceptional this year and many area resorts are posting double digit increases over their projections for summer reservations. Clearly, the public wants to come to our beaches to relax and escape from their everyday stresses.

But now we’re facing another media onslaught. Not over the oil threatening our beaches, but by high gas prices. A recent New York Times article proclaimed that skyrocketing gas prices would prevent Americans from their annual ritual of loading up the family for a summer vacation. The same theme has been repeatedly echoed in other publications and on TV.

Here we go again. The majority of tourists that visit our area in the summer drive here — and the last thing our region needs is another damper on what appears to be a recovering economy.

Instead of inducing fear in American families that a driving vacation will plummet them into bankruptcy, can we take a moment and put this into perspective?

Let’s do a little math. For an example, let’s take a family that lives 750 miles from Northwest Florida’s beaches or our beautiful capital city. If they drive a car that gets 15 miles per gallon, they would use 100 gallons for a roundtrip.

In the summer of 2010, retail gas prices hovered around $2.76 a gallon. For 100 gallons, the cost would be $276. In the summer of 2011, the price for a gallon is now predicted to hit close to $4. For 100 gallons, the tab would be $400.

The difference: $124. For a one-week vacation, that amounts to $17.71 a day.

Is that really going to keep the average American family home, shuddering in fear under their beds? I don’t think so. If the budget is tight, eating a modest-priced dinner or lunch would even it out. Or buy one less T-shirt for each kid.

It’s unfortunate that national media attention focuses so much on the negative when Americans, more than ever, need to hear some good news and be encouraged to become part of our nation’s — and our region’s — economic recovery.

The message I’d like to see? It’s time to go on a summer vacation. Get away from it all, even for a little while. Refresh your spirit and give your neighbors a little economic boost.