If Florida suffers a nightmare scenario of oil soaking its Gulf Coast, the economic cost could top $10 billion and put about 195,000 people out of work, according to a new report.
The grim estimates from a University of Central Florida economist involve fairly simple math: Take the value of tourism on Florida’s western coast and cut it in half.
The economist, Sean Snaith, said a 50 percent drop in tourism and related spending seemed reasonable should Florida suffer a massive, direct hit from the Gulf oil spill.
Still, he acknowledged it’s hard to predict the consequences of a nightmare scenario.
“The whole economic impact of the episode is a giant layer cake of uncertainty,”
“How many counties will be affected? I don’t know. We won’t really know until the oil starts washing up on the shore.”
No Florida beaches have closed after the April 20 Gulf rig explosion, but tar balls have been washing up along Pensacola and other beaches on the western end of Florida’s Panhandle.
Ed Schroeder, director of Pensacola’s tourism bureau, said last week’s arrival of hundreds of tar balls on the area’s white-sand beaches sparked a wave of hotel
cancellations. But with clean-up crews removing the oily globs throughout the day, tourists and locals continue to spend the day at the beach, he said.
But while the travel damage appears to have stabilized, Florida hotels face a punishing summer if the situation doesn’t improve.
“Cancellations have stopped,” Schroeder said. “New reservations have not yet started.”
Snaith’s warning of a $10.9 billion hit to Florida’s $740 billion economy assumes oil fouling beaches and coast line from the far western edge of the Panhandle to the Keys.
Tourism in Florida’s counties touching the Gulf of Mexico account for $12.4 billion in spending and about 269,000 jobs, according to Snaith’s report.
But the industry also supports businesses that never see tourists — such as restaurant suppliers, produce trucks and retail wholesalers.
Even a 10 percent decline in tourism throughout Florida’s Gulf coast would cost the state about $2.2 billion and 39,000 jobs, Snaith estimated.
Snaith said he has no research suggesting what kind of tourism losses would follow a Florida beach fouled by oil.