Fears of Oil Soaked Beaches Drive Vacationers Away

Gulf coast property owners report major decline in summer rentals.

ByABC News
June 14, 2010, 5:48 PM

June 15, 2010— -- Last summer, Joanna Elkins' phone never seemed to stop ringing with vacationers eager to stay in one of her three condos in Panama City and Okaloosa Island, Fla.

This summer, the phone has been almost silent.

"We're just not getting the calls," Elkins said.

Elkins attributes the decline to people's fears that Florida's beaches have been smeared with oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. Panama City Beach has not been hit by the oil yet, but vacationers have already been scared away.

"Last year, I rented all three of the beachfront condos weekly," she said. "Every week, filled up completely."

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She has stopped renting two of her three condos altogether and the third property is only booked for two weeks out of the entire summer. When compared to her rental calendar from last year, Elkins described the contrast as "disturbing."

She has lowered the price of a one-week stay in her penthouse condominium from $1,500 a week to less than $900. Still, no one is calling.

Elkins and her husband face the prospect of losing tens of thousands of dollars of income if rentals don't pick up during what is normally the busiest rental period of the year.

"It's that income that carries us the rest of the year because we don't get enough in the off season," she said. "We don't know what we're going to do."

The BP oil spill is not only hurting property owners.

"It affects everybody, and it's devastating," Elkins said. "It affects people who make their money from tourism, from restaurants, the people who rent out jet skis and umbrellas."

Jack Norris, president of Mississippi's Gulf Coast Business Council, recently met with business owners from the region to try to understand the impact of the oil spill on the economy there. Oil has yet to wash ashore, but many potential visitors from outside the region have the impression that the beaches have been affected.