Image: empty beaches
Dave Martin  /  AP
People walk past empty beach chairs in Destin, Fla., on Sunday. Some hotels and condominium owners along the Gulf say their business is down by 50 percent.
By
updated 6/30/2010 5:00:05 PM ET 2010-06-30T21:00:05

As more oil from the Gulf of Mexico washes up on surrounding beaches, tourism in many Southeastern states is fading — even in areas far away from the gooey mess. But hotels from Texas to Florida and some airlines like Spirit are eager to drum up business driven away by oil fears — which means bargains aren't hard to find.

Prices for hotel rooms are down by as much as 30 percent across the Gulf Coast and some spots in the Caribbean, as worries spread about where the oil will wash up next. Hotels in some cities as far away as Miami and along the eastern coast of Texas are seeing bookings affected by the spill, even though the likelihood of oil appearing there is small.

Airline ticket prices to the Gulf region have fallen slightly since the spill. In general though, flight deals are harder to find because airlines can move planes to other routes if passenger numbers drop.

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Room prices for New Orleans in July have plunged by about 30 percent over the last six weeks, Travelocity senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown said. Prices in Ft. Myers, Fla., are down by about 16 percent. They've dropped by about 10 percent in Miami.

Some resorts are getting inventive. Sterling Resorts, which manages vacation properties along the Gulf Coast, is offering a "clean beach booking guarantee." Guests can get their deposits refunded or reschedule their vacation if they're concerned about the oil.

The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla., is offering a "buy three nights, get one free" deal this weekend. It's also constructing a massive inflatable water park for visitors that are concerned about going into the ocean.

Although the summer is the "low season" for many hot Florida spots, a number of Gulf cities rely on the peak summer tourist season. They're hurting, and no one is sure when they'll get a foothold again.

While hotel deals appear to be growing, you can't fetch a bargain everywhere. In Pensacola, Fla., for example, prices have remained flat over the past six weeks for rooms in July. Brown said that's due in large part to all the workers that have converged on the city since oil first leaked in April. Oil first washed up on Florida beaches earlier this month.

But because workers don't spend the kind of money that tourists do on activities like eating out or buying souvenirs, many businesses are still being hurt. Hotel prices are also holding up in more inland cities like Orlando — home to Disney World.

If you want to take advantage of these deals, you'd better jump fast. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the spill, the deals might go quick. That makes more sense for people within driving distance of the coast who don't have to worry about buying an airline ticket in advance.

Still, flight deals are out there.

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People looking for a last-minute trip to the Florida panhandle from New York can snag a package for just $400 per person this weekend on Lastminute.com. That includes a flight on US Airways and two nights hotel. The same deal is $637 with American Airlines.

Some airlines have been more aggressive than others in drawing in the beach crowd. Last week, Spirit Airlines offered a $50 discount on roundtrip flights to certain beach destinations; Fort Lauderdale; Cancun; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Atlantic City.

Two out of four of those spots could be hurt by the spill. Ads that featured a bikini-clad model with the tagline "Check out the oil on our beaches" drew a slew of complaints. Spirit later pulled the ads, but it continued the discount — which works out to be more than half off, considering most Spirit flights are under $100.

Brown said it's tough to tell whether airfares will get cheaper later this summer to the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. But if the oil spill continues to spread, cheaper airfares will likely start to pop up in larger numbers in September, when the summer crowds subside and airfares typically fall.

A couple more words of advice when booking airfares or hotels in the area: Travel insurance may not cover your loss if you decide to cancel your vacation, since the spill is a known risk. It's also a manmade disaster, which prevents insurance from paying under most natural disaster insurance clauses.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Biloxi blues: Oil hits Mississippi beaches

  1. Transcript of: Biloxi blues: Oil hits Mississippi beaches

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Venice, Louisiana): And now, as this oil spreads, so does the fear among shore communities down here that they are going to be next. And that happened again today. Our own Mark Potter is in Biloxi , Mississippi , about 85 miles from where we are tonight. Mark , good evening.

    MARK POTTER reporting: And good evening to you, Brian . For so long the state of Mississippi dodged the bullet and had no oil coming ashore. But now the oil is here, and people who live here are angry and worried, just like everyone else along the Gulf Coast . For the first time BP workers are on the beaches in Mississippi now, cleaning up tar balls and patties in Biloxi . They washed ashore yesterday and are still coming. But Mayor AJ Holloway is angry at BP and the federal government.

    Major AJ HOLLOWAY: Not one skimmer out there working. Just letting it come. Not trying to prevent it. You know, it's just un -- it's unbelievable. You know? They're not doing their job.

    POTTER: On a rock jetty in Ocean Springs , Jody and Natalie Mays came out to fish with their kids, but found the water off limits, and some of the rocks here coated in oil.

    Ms. NATALIE MAYS: The kids won't be able to swim. The fishing is over.

    Mr. JODY MAYS: I mean, it's really awful. I mean, it's going to be -- it's going to be rough for a lot of people.

    POTTER: At Snapper's Seafood Restaurant , a popular tourist stop in Biloxi , business is already down 30 to 40 percent in what would normally be the busiest time of year. With oil on shore it could easily get worse.

    Mr. MARK BALIUS (Snapper's Seafood Restaurant Owner): Well, it's devastating. There's -- who wants to go to a beach when beaches are covered with oil?

    POTTER: Biloxi city officials say they asked BP for skimmer boats and lots of boom to protect the barrier islands and shoreline, but didn't get them.

    Mr. VINCENT CREEL (City of Biloxi Spokesman): The sad part is that people have had two months to get ready for this , yet it's still coming ashore. It should have been stopped 12 miles out.

    POTTER: With 26 miles of Gulf Coast beaches, Mississippi is now bracing for more oil. And today's storms in the gulf are fueling those worries. High winds and rough seas mean that more than just tar balls could be coming ashore

    here soon. Brian: Mark Potter in Biloxi , Mississippi . Mark , thanks.

    WILLIAMS:

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

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