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South Carolina tourism may - or may not - be affected by oil

Grand Strand business leaders and experts see two possible – and very different – effects that the monthlong Gulf oil spill could have on local tourism.

If the spill stays in the Gulf, or near southern Florida, more tourists could choose to come to the Strand instead of those areas. But should the oil enter into the loop stream and spread up the East Coast, tourist fears may keep them away from the Southeast – including the Grand Strand.

Inquiries about the spill follow the same pattern as the news cycle, Dean said. The number of callers considering a vacation switch from the Gulf Coast to Myrtle Beach has dropped since the initial news of the spill, he said. But news of oil reaching the Florida coast last week caused a spike in calls, he said, including a few concerned it would reach the Carolina coast.

"The calls tend to follow the national media coverage," Dean said. "It's something we're watching and tend to be very proactive should the negative media coverage spread our way."

The perception that the oil could spread to South Carolina beaches could hurt the area even if it doesn’t make it here, he said.

Reservations at Grand Strand Resorts at Barefoot Resort went up immediately after the spill, but the resort has not gotten many calls since then, said President Phil Pate. But Pate said it’s still possible the spill will drive business to the hotel.

“If it gets in that loop current and it starts getting around Florida, I think our phones will pick up again,” he said.

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