- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

George Govignon and his family usually vacation each summer on the Gulf, “somewhere between Destin and Panama City” in Florida.

But this year, Govignon, his wife, two kids and in-laws are heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“The biggest thing was fear of tar balls,” said Govignon, a lawyer from Calhoun, Ga. “We figured we’d be better off on the Atlantic Coast.”

Mr. Govignon is among thousands of vacationers changing plans because of the oil spill. Some are heading to favorite beaches earlier than usual, worried that oil may wash up later in the season. Some are booking last-minute to make sure beaches are still OK. But others are taking no chances on a forecast like “sunny with a chance of tar balls,” so they’re going elsewhere, from Cape Cod to Costa Rica.

Arwen Delvecchio, marketing manager at CapeCodRentals.com in Orleans, Mass., said she’s been getting calls from Southerners canceling trips to the Gulf, trying “to get as far away as possible” from the oil.

Because some of them have never been to Cape Cod before, they require some education: Warm, calm water means staying on the bay side, not the ocean. And no, $1,400 a week will not get you a three-bedroom on the water.

“That’s just unheard of,” Ms. Delvecchio said.

So some customers on a budget are settling for smaller, less upscale lodging than they’d get on the Gulf for the same price — a five-minute drive from the beach instead of across the street.

Michael Brown of Mead Brown, a vacation rental company in Costa Rica, said his company also had “many inquiries and bookings from families … who typically vacation on the Florida panhandle or in Mexico, but because of the oil spill or perceived safety issues in Mexico, they are coming to Costa Rica.”

Among them is Jody Bailey, who lives in Gulfport, Miss. He usually vacations in Seaside, Fla., with his wife and teenage children.

“This year due to the scare of all the oil hitting the shore and the onslaught of potential pollution for the beach, we’re going to Costa Rica instead,” he said.

The teens are looking forward to ziplining and jungle adventures, but Mr. Bailey hopes to return to Florida eventually.

“It’s a family tradition, since I was a little kid,” he said. “My parents went there as well. I just hope we get the beaches clean.”

To hang on to potential visitors, a significant number of hotels and rental condos in the Gulf have adopted “worry-free cancellation policies,” said Kathy Torian, a spokeswoman for Visit Florida, the state tourism agency.

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