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BP Denies Compensating Florida Hotels on the Gulf of Mexico
- If There's No Oil on the Beaches, Then No Claim -

By Ted Jackovics, Tampa Tribune, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 12, 2010 --ST. PETE BEACH -- BP has denied compensation to at least a dozen Florida hotels for lost income, saying they're too far from the oil spill, hoteliers and a trade group official said Wednesday.

Among them was TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach, which recently filed paperwork with BP showing it had lost $1.7 million in revenue between the oil rig explosion on April 20 and June 30, compared with revenue averages over the three previous years, the resort's chairman and chief executive Tim Bogott said.

Although hoteliers have lost business and had fewer reservations because of visitor perceptions that oil damage had spread beyond Florida's Panhandle, BP spokesman Robert Wine said Wednesday such hotel claims "come under a slightly gray area."

Wine said the company is handing the claims process over to Ken Feinberg, who the Obama Administration named to determine who will receive money from BP's $20 billion oil-spill fund.

BP's failure to pay claims as hoteliers expected has raised tensions in the tourism industry as Florida hoteliers make plans for their prime winter season.

"Our industry is flat out angry and ready to give up on the claims process as a result of these calls from BP proclaiming there's 'no oil on the beaches, so no claim,'" said Keith Overton, chairman of the Tallahassee-based Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and chief operating officer of the TradeWinds in a Monday letter to a Feinberg representative.

Only a special million dollar marketing campaign at the beginning of the summer helped boost May and June visitation in Pinellas slightly compared with a year ago.

That primarily was a result of business from nearby driving-distance markets rather than customary domestic and international sources whose demand will determine the success of the winter season.

DT Minich, executive director of Pinellas County's tourism office, Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater, said he had gotten no response to his July 30 request for an additional $5 million in marketing assistance from BP.

That followed $1.15 million in BP marketing funding Pinellas that Gov. Charlie Crist secured from the oil compan in June to combat negative perceptions beyond Florida, where travelers are not familiar with the state's geography and extent of the oil spill.

Overton said he had heard BP rejected claims from hotels ranging from the Edgewater Beach Resort & Golf Club in Panama City to the Doubletree North Redington Beach Resort in Pinellas County.

Hotel officials could not be reached for confirmation late Wednesday.

Hoteliers expected BP to pay for their lost profits, which, in the case of TradeWinds, said Overton, would amount to about $510,000.

Overton hopes area hotels will be compensated under Feinberg.

"I have been with Mr. Feinberg many times and heard him state that businesses located on the beaches along the Gulf Coast of Florida will have compensable claims regardless of whether oil reached their beaches or not," said Overton who has testified on oil spill issues three times before Congressional panels.

"Mr. Feinberg has said these kinds of claims are easy and don't require rocket science, but apparently BP does not share is sentiments."

Feinberg, who takes over the administration of BP claims later this month, did not respond to a Tribune e-mail requesting comment.

Robin Grabowski, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, which represents Pinellas County beach businesses said she has heard some local fishermen have received claims of losses from BP, but not hotels.

"I know hotel revenue is down in July," Grabowski said. Release of the county's visitor survey data generally lags two months behind.

Overton said Feinberg indicated he wanted to settle claims without litigation, but Overton said he was on the verge of recommending the legal approach rather than accepting claims piecemeal, for fear the $20 billion BP money pool will run out.

He also said he intended to again contact the state's Congressional leaders, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Bill Young, who have been advocates for Florida businesses and residents since the spill.

Castor, D-Tampa, said Wednesday, she was disappointed but not surprised that BP has not been forthcoming, considering BP's responses throughout the oil spill.

Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at 813-259-7817.


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