Gulf Coast tourism tries to clean up

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Online booking site Orbitz is to offer tourists a full refund on their Florida hotel if the beach at their destination is closed due to the BP oil slick, as the tourism industry on the Gulf Coast struggles to retain its image as one of the top holiday destinations in the US.

The company said June 14 that customers who have a standalone hotel booking between June 14 and July 31 will be eligible for a full refund on their hotel stay if a government agency closes, or declares dangerous, a beach within 20 miles (32 km).

Orbitz has formalized what many establishments were already doing, with Kathy Torian, a spokeswoman for state tourism authority Visit Florida, recently telling AP that a number of hotels and rental condos in the area have adopted "worry-free cancellation policies" to help consumers.

Beaches along the Gulf coastline have been subject to intermittent closure since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in April, washing up oil and tar balls on some beaches.

However, authorities are keen to impress upon visitors that most of the region’s beaches remain open for business, with President Obama saying that one of the best ways to help is to visit the region.

Lousiana, which has borne the brunt of the spill, is telling tourists "You can still play in Louisiana," while on June 14, the Florida Keys and Key West tourism council launched a new feature to "correct Gulf spill misperceptions."

Ther new site encourages visitors to upload date-stamped videos of themselves enjoying the water, and offers up a network of webcams so prospective visitors can check the sites for themselves.

See the predicted trajectory and impact of the slick: http://www.geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/

Beach quality reports

Alabama: http://www.adph.org
Florida: http://esetappsdoh.doh.state.fl.us/irm00beachwater/default.aspx
Louisiana: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/?ID=207
Mississippi: http://www.deq.state.ms.us/MDEQ.nsf
Texas: http://www.TexasBeachWatch.com/

Official tourism bodies

Alabama: http://www.alabama.travel/
Florida: http://www.visitflorida.com
Louisiana: http://www.louisianatravel.com/
Mississippi: http://www.visitmississippi.org/
Texas: http://www.traveltex.com/

Orbitz: www.orbitz.com/oil

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