The federal government needs to clear up misconceptions about the oil spill and encourage travel to the Gulf of Mexico, said Ralph Brennan, New Orleans restaurateur and former National Restaurant Association (NRA) chairman, at a July 27 hearing before Congress about helping the Gulf of Mexico recover from the BP oil spill.

"The long-term consequences and impact on tourism of a damaged brand are severe," Brennan (pictured, left) told members of the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. "Decreased visits lead to job loss, decreased tax revenue and more."

The hearing examined the impact of the April 20 oil spill on travel and tourism. Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said he wanted to ensure the travel and tourism industry wasn't left out of the $20 billion claims pool BP created to compensate oil spill victims.

Brennan, who owns 12 restaurants, including nine in New Orleans, spoke on behalf of the NRA and the Alabama, Florida and Mississippi restaurant industries. He said marketing money was needed to counter misperceptions that New Orleans and other Gulf Coast destinations were damaged and that Gulf seafood wasn’t safe to eat. Restaurant sales even in inland restaurants, such as those in New Orleans, have decreased as visitors stay away in the wake of the oil spill, he said.

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