GULFPORT, Mississippi – President Barack Obama Monday implored Americans to visit southern tourist beaches and munched on local seafood, seeking to boost two key industries threatened by the BP oil disaster.
"There's still a lot of opportunity for visitors to come down here. There are a lot of beaches that have not been affected and will not be affected," Obama said, at the start of a two-day trip to the region.
"We just want to make sure that people who have travel plans down to the Gulf area remain mindful of that.
"If people want to know what can they do to help folks down here, one of the best ways to help is to come down here and enjoy the outstanding hospitality."
Later, Obama lunched with Mississippi's Republican governor Haley Barbour and other officials, discussing the safety of local seafood while savoring mini crab cakes, fried shrimp and shrimp salad sandwiches at a local restaurant.
The lunch appeared to be an attempt to show Americans that seafood from parts of the Gulf coast not under a fisheries ban over the oil spill remained safe to eat.
The three states Obama is visiting on his two-day trip -- Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- have each seen their tourism industries overshadowed by the disaster, and are threatened by a massive oil slick spawned by a ruptured BP-operated undersea well.
Some Louisiana wetlands and beaches have already suffered from a thick soup of oil that has washed ashore, killing sea life and birds.
Any large-scale fall-off in tourism numbers would reap a heavy economic price in a region also suffering a devastating hit to its fishing and shrimping industry.
Obama was likely later to get a first hand look later Monday at Alabama's stunning white sands, which state officials fear could be blackened by oil, and are calling for an all-out effort to protect the state's coastline.
Near a staging facility which deploys equipment used in the disaster mitigation effort that Obama will visit later Monday, booms used to stop oil leaking into wetlands and inland waters could be seen in estuaries and inlets.
Obama spoke briefly to reporters after getting a briefing on the latest efforts to limit the scope of the oil disaster from local officials and the top US official dealing with the operation Admiral Thad Allen.
The oil has been spewing into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast sank two days after being crippled by an explosion on April 20.
© AFP 2013