|By Wayne Risher, The Commercial Appeal,
Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 25, 2010--Gulf Coast vacation rentals are offering clean-beach guarantees, 24-hour cancellations and other enticements to attract travelers wary of the disastrous oil slick.
From Panama City Beach to Destin to Biloxi, purveyors of beachside accommodations are relaxing cancellation and refund rules and extending discounts to overcome media-fed fears of oil-coated beaches.
" 'Clean-beach guarantees' are definitely a new twist in the world of travel," said Tricia Peacock of Peacock-McCarty Travel on Main in Downtown Memphis. "We have concerned travelers, but so far, no cancellations."
Gina Gregory of MDi Media Group in Mobile, Ala., said the slick has had "a big impact" on new bookings but not so much on rentals booked before the oil spill began.
"When people see the map where the oil could be going, they're just automatically assuming there's oil gushing up on our shores, and that's just not the case," Gregory said.
Laurie Hobbs, spokeswoman for Sandestin Resort, said her company set up a beach web cam and an environmental update feature on its website so prospective visitors can see the real-time situation.
The resort operator shortened the period for a cancellation with refund, for any reason, from seven days to 24 hours.
Hobbs said there's a reason refunds aren't contingent on oil lapping the shores.
"We wanted to give people the confidence to be able to book," she said. "We've got a lot of loyal guests. We wanted to be gracious during this period."
Sandestin also extended until Memorial Day an earlier offer of a free night after three nights are paid.
Hobbs said, "My bottom-line premise is people are probably doing more research now than they have in the past. We're just delighted to be able to give them added information to make that educated decision."
Memphis physician Barbara Geater said she has been fielding calls from nervous friends and family who plan to use her vacation home at Panama City this summer.
"I've been telling them we can't predict what's going to happen," Geater said. "When we were there Mother's Day, there were no signs of oil or any damage.
"All of us who have property down there are concerned about what's the short-term and long-term effects. From what I know about the Exxon Valdez, we're going to be dealing with this problem for 20 years."
Geater said her section of beach becomes a hatchery for sea turtles from time to time. For the sake of both wildlife and vacationers, she hopes the oil slick is somehow contained before it reaches the shores.
--Wayne Risher: 529-2874
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