Tourism, the largest industry in Gulf Shores, Alabama, employed more than 54,000 in travel-related jobs and pumped $5.2 billion into the economy in 2019. Anything that threatens the area’s beaches and environment, like a hurricane, can have a devastating impact on the economy.
Over the years, Gulf Shores faced several devastating hurricanes, including Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but residents always knew what to expect — the power would be out for a while, the water would eventually recede and they could rebuild. But the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill shook everyone, according to Kay Maghan, public relations manager, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. No one knew what to expect.
“We’re used to hurricanes, but an oil spill is a whole other deal,” she said.
Within days of the drilling platform explosion that leaked approximately 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, most future visitors to Gulf Shores canceled their hotel reservations, and no new bookings were being made. Maghan said the community quickly realized that without the beach and Gulf waters, they had no tourism industry. It opened their eyes to how crucial it was to protect their environment.
Ironically, the oil spill provided Gulf Shores and other affected areas with the funds to focus on sustainability. Just weeks after the April 20 disaster, scientists, economists and restoration experts began determining the extent of the damage, and a year later BP made its first $1 billion payment toward restoration. In total, the company responsible for the spill will pay trustees $8.8 billion over 20 years.
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