New Orleans restaurateur Ralph Brennan testified Tuesday before a House congressional subcommittee, providing details about the BP oil spill’s devastating impact on tourism and restaurants in the Gulf Coast region.
Brennan, a former chairman of the National Restaurant Association, is president of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, LLC. He joined other tourism representatives and Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
â€˜Across the affected areas, restaurants report a range of experiences and concerns. Those located seaside or in beach communities are decimated as tourism shrivels to nothing,â€™ said Brennan.
â€˜Visitor perception is key to decisions about where to vacation. Restaurants along the Gulf Coast â€“ many of which are seasonal – face losing their entire year’s worth of sales and income even if there is no oil on their stretch of coastline. Further inland, restaurants like mine in New Orleans are affected as well. The overall numbers of tourists are down, restaurant guests and sales are decreasing; product cost is increasing; and jobs are in jeopardy as already-thin margins precariously slip away.â€™
In May during the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago Brennan told FoodChannelPRO that the city of New Orleans had regained its spark following the Super Bowl victory of the New Orleans’ Saints.
â€˜After Katrina the city was in a bad way and it really took a toll for a long, long time. But when the Saints went all the way the city seemed to really come together in the most jubilant way possible,â€™ he says.
But once again New Orleans finds itself in the crosshairs of an ongoing crisis.
Brennan’s testimony included comments about the uncertainty surrounding the spill, cautioning that without correcting consumer misperceptions about the impact of the spill, the Gulf Coast could become a â€˜damaged brand.â€™ He talked about the hurdles the city has had to overcome post-Hurricane Katrina.
â€˜The long-term consequences and impact on tourism of a damaged brand are severe,â€™ Brennan says. â€˜Decreased visits lead to job loss, decreased tax revenue, and more. I implore you to continue to help make sure the public is well informed about the reality in the region. For many on the coast, the economic impact is devastating, but for others inland, it does not have to be.â€™
Brennan also addressed the issue of Gulf Coast-sourced seafood, which he serves in all his restaurants. â€˜In New Orleans, one of the driving forces of our economy is culinary tourism. Gulf seafood is at the heart of culinary tourism. We are fortunate that 100 percent of reports have shown Gulf seafood to be safe to consume from approved waters. Ongoing testing is crucial for a safe and informed public.â€™