HERALD EDITORIAL | Spread the word: Our beaches remain beautiful

Manatee County beaches remain pristine. Tell friends, family and business associates far and wide: Come for a visit and enjoy an Old Florida experience on our islands and throughout Manatee County and beyond.

Our quaint motels and resorts, our casual and fine dining, our fishing piers and charter boats await. The panoramic views from a parasailing seat continue to be blue, white and green. Kayaking into mint-condition mangroves is still a thrill.

Your Twitter feeds, Facebook postings and email messages could help pump more life into our tourism industry and overall economy — especially if updated periodically so people far away are constantly reassured about the cleanliness of our sand and our oil-free environment.

Perceptions persist that the Gulf oil disaster is touching all of Florida, but such false impressions must be countered with an ongoing effort.

To that end, a handful of island businesses are streaming live webcam images on their Internet sites so booked guests and potential visitors can stay up to date on the situation here. This newspaper’s website, www. bradenton.com, has joined that effort with frequent postings of images and other information.

Manatee’s chances of completely avoiding tar balls and an oil sheen look excellent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government’s lead science agency for oil spill response, utilized computer models of historical wind and ocean currents to project the odds of oil hitting Gulf and Atlantic coastlines. The long-term probability of oil reaching Manatee-Sarasota beaches is very low, as low as 1 percent.

Anna Maria Island’s tourism industry remains strong despite all the cancellations — more than 400 room nights have been lost. But arriving visitors are taking advantage of rates lower than last year. Bookings from Europe — particularly Germany, which the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau targets with promotional campaigns — are falling off over unfounded fears.

The blame goes to the national and international media’s inaccurate portrayal of the state as tainted with oil. People hear the words “Florida beaches” in news accounts and assume that means everywhere, though the pollution has only reached a stretch of the Peninsula.

To counteract that misperception, Gov. Charlie Crist secured $25 million from BP for advertising that promoted our clean beaches. That money’s been spent, though, and Crist’s request for another $50 million has been rejected.

That’s an unconscionable response from a corporate giant that is spending an untold amount on television and newspaper advertisements that tout BP’s efforts to fight the spill. One print ad states “Making this right” with the word “Beaches” and “Economic investment” directly below.

If BP truly desires to “make this right” concerning our beaches and economy, the company would divert money spent on corporate public relations and invest in tourism promotion.

In the meantime, it’s up to us to get the word out that our beaches are beautiful.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has been proactive, reaching out to AAA offices in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. Officials film and post videos of scenic beach shots and interviews with tourists several times a week on YouTube and the bureau website.

Elliott Falcione, the bureau’s executive director, reports the site is gaining more unique visitors, a good sign.

Still, we urge residents to join the effort by spreading the word across the nation and globe: Come tickle your toes in our clean sand.