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Despite oil spill, Pinellas tourism numbers rise | Business

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Despite oil spill, Pinellas tourism numbers rise
Despite oil spill, Pinellas tourism numbers rise

St. Pete Beach, Florida -- For months, the tone was doom and gloom. As oil gushed into the Gulf, fear spilled into the Tampa Bay area.

Would the oil disaster destroy Florida's tourism industry?

Six months later, though, the reality is the total number of people who visited Pinellas County increased in 2010 by more than one percent.

It means an extra 50,000 people visited, even spending more money when they did than in 2009.

"It is somewhat surprising," said Clyde Smith, from the Bilmar Beach Resort on Treasure Island.

The explanation is a little less clear.

"We had to do heavy, heavy, heavy discounting.  We had to change our whole pricing structure," said Linda Rideout, from the Dolphin Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach.

Others credit the massive marketing campaign through the summer and fall that showed the world oil-free beaches.

"We've all worked hard about putting out that image that we're ok, come on down," Rideout said.

Some people, though, might question what exactly BP is paying for in dishing out more than $1 billion in claims to Florida alone, including many hotels.

"I think you'd have to say what would the numbers have been?  Because March and April were significantly higher than they had been in 2009 and even 2008," Smith said.

Even as hotels say they still struggle to bring in conventions and weddings, they're hoping the post-spill recovery rolls right into 2011.

As long as the sand is still stain-free.

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