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BP and Gulf Coast Tourism, Alabama Choirs Headed to Japan

Alabama Choir School
Alabama Choir School's final rehearsal before heading to Japan

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, tourism hasn’t just recovered on the Gulf Coast – industry officials say it’s surging. They credit the response to that environmental disaster as part of the reason why.

BP spent more than $230 million promoting Gulf Coast tourism after the 2010 spill, and the company aired national commercials promoting the region for years.

Tourism officials say that publicity boosted tourism to new levels, even as questions remain about the spill's long-term environmental impact. In some areas, tourist spending is double what it was before the spill.

However, tourism is up nationwide, and it's tough to determine exactly how much of the increase in Gulf Coast visitors is linked to the BP promotions.

Residents are saying, though, that their fears of a tourism collapse after the spill are now just a memory.

53 young singers from the Alabama Choir School are on their way to Japan today.

The groups will be performing one song in Japanese. It’s called Hotaro Koi, or “Oh Firefly” in English. They weren’t told they’d perform this tune before a Japanese audience until last Thursday.

Two choirs will sing, The Ambassador Choir, comprised of 5th through 8th graders, and the high school Chamber Choir. Director Doff Procter says these youngsters handle songs in German, French, Italian, and Russian, so Japanese is a snap.

"We learned a bunch of Japanese. It's actually an easy language as long as it's written in letters. If it's in characters, you're in big trouble."

This trip is part of the Tuscaloosa’s sister city program which includes close ties with the city of Narashino, Japan.

Drivers can expect to see more Alabama Law Enforcement on the roads as summer travel season kicks off. A campaign is currently underway to enforce safe driving practices and decrease potentially dangerous situations.

Jess Thornton is a corporal with the Alabama State Troopers. He says one simple task can save drivers a lot of trouble.

“If you can do anything to prevent yourself from being injured or possibly killed in a crash, it’s buckle up. 60 to 70 percent of the crashes that we’ve worked recently, the victims did not have seat belts on. So if people can put those seat belts on, it decreases the likelihood of injury or death in the event they are involved in a crash.”

Thornton also reminds everyone to avoid distractions like cell phones while behind the wheel. Also, state law says anyone in the front seat of a vehicle is required to wear a seat belt.

A new national center dedicated to the country’s water resources is opening today in Tuscaloosa.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be cutting the ribbon on its National Water Center at the University of Alabama this afternoon at 2 PM.

NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker are among the officials who will be on hand.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby helped secure funding for the nearly $24 million, 65,000-square-foot facility.

The center is intended to help the National Weather Service provide new kinds of information about water. Officials say that data could improve disaster preparedness and forecast droughts like the one currently gripping the West Coast.

About 200 people will work at the center, including employees of NOAA and other government agencies as well as contractors and visiting scientists.

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