By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Fla (Reuters) - Hoping to bring tourists back to Florida's Panhandle beaches, Governor Rick Scott joined BP officials and local tourism leaders on Monday to announce a $30 million marketing grant for the region, which lost much of its business last year.
Scott lauded BP's commitment to "do the right thing" by earmarking nearly $82 million so far for tourism and commercial seafood testing since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I thank BP for stepping up, especially at this time, because it's terribly important that we get the tourist season up and going," Scott said at a press conference.
Unlike South Florida, the Panhandle region's peak season occurs in the summer months.
BP has already made tourism payments of $18 million to Mississippi and $22 million to Alabama, according to the company's recovery website.
Last month, Louisiana's 64 parishes split $5 million in tourism aid from the company. Those funds were the first of six BP payments to Louisiana that will total $30 million.
The grant money announced on Monday for Florida will be distributed through the Northwest Florida Tourism Council, a non-profit group set up after the disaster to represent tourism officials in seven Panhandle counties affected by the spill.
Funds will be divvied up among the counties, which produced marketing plans that have been approved by the regional council.
"We have seen the plans and have great confidence that they will result in great help to the tourism industry there," said Luke Keller, BP's senior vice president in charge of Gulf restoration efforts.
Marketing efforts are expected to include media buys in nearby states where people can easily drive to the Panhandle beaches for vacation but also in places farther afield.
Other incentives include coupons, vouchers and package deals.
"Each of those counties has very different plans," said Dawn Moliterno, chairwoman of the regional tourism council.
"But what you can expect to see are concentrated, targeted initiatives in each of those counties to the customers of their targeted markets."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)