The BP oil spill may have more than just environmental implications for Florida's panhandle. It could also affect vacation plans.
The area is a popular tourist destination for Kentuckians, but it's unclear how much its tourism will be affected.
Christopher Oakford, spokesman for Lexington's AAA offices, said there has been some shift away from the Florida panhandle as a destination this summer. Some people are planning to visit East Coast beaches instead, he said.
Yet many people still plan to go to Florida this summer, Oakford said. AAA has recommended people wait and see what conditions are like in Florida closer to the time of their trip.
Many Florida hotels are being proactive, Oakford said. Some have set up Web cams to show conditions at the beach and are offering refunds if the oil spill affects beach conditions, he said.
Sabrina LoPiccolo, manager of public relations and promotions for Allegiant Air, a low-cost airline that offers nonstop flights from Lexington to three Florida airports, said there has been no change in bookings to Florida since the oil spill.
Jenny Urie of New Liberty in Owen County said she and her boyfriend were planning to go to New Orleans and to the coast of Mississippi in late July.
"Now that is totally out of the question," Urie said.
As soon as news broke of the oil spill, they decided not to go, she said. She's not sure if oil has been spotted on the beaches they planned to visit, but she didn't want to take that chance and figured it would be hard to find good seafood, which was a big reason they were going.
Barrett Simpson from Sweeden in Edmonson County said via e-mail that he returned earlier this week from a vacation in Panama City Beach. There was no oil in sight and he had a great time.
Simpson said he encourages anyone who has a vacation planned in the Gulf to keep those plans until oil is spotted on the beach and to be in touch with the local Chambers of Commerce to verify there is no oil.
Tourism officials for the Florida panhandle cities of Destin, Pensacola and Panama City Beach all said that Memorial Day weekend was as successful as ever for tourism in their cities.
Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, said some people have canceled travel plans, but in general, tourism isn't down. Destin tourism officials have been promoting the message that their beaches are still open, and not expected to close.
"But everything could change in the blink of an eye," Moody said.
The most important thing is to update tourists in real time about beach conditions, said Dan Rowe, president and CEO of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
Laura Lee, director of communications for Visit Pensacola, said visitors are anxious and have been hesitant to make reservations. The agency posts images every day about how their beaches look and many hotels have relaxed cancellation policies.
May was a successful month for the city, but it's unclear whether the rest of the summer will be, Lee said.
David Sheets, general manager of the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Panama City Beach, said bookings have held steady so far, although people have called with questions and concerns. The hotel makes sure guests know that their beaches are open and clean.
Even though some people are choosing not to go to the Gulf Coast, travel in general is up 5 to 6 percent from this time last year, Oakford said.