Obama Sends Message With Weekend Gulf Getaway

Responding to complaints from critics, who condemned his absence from the Gulf Coast in the months after the BP oil spill, President Barack Obama and his family vacationed earlier this month in Panama City Beach on Florida's panhandle, the Associated Press reported last week.

Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and 9-year-old daughter Sasha, Obama spent Friday, Aug. 13 and Saturday, Aug. 14 in Florida, and returned to Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Aug. 15. During its weekend stay, the first family cruised the Gulf aboard the 50-foot Bay Point Lady. The president and his daughter even went swimming in the Gulf — a gesture the White House hoped would send a clear message that Gulf Coast water and beaches are oil-free, and that the president is committed to the local environment, as well as the local economy.

"That's one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha and I are here," Obama said during his visit. "[Florida Gov. Charlie Crist] and others invited us down to enjoy the beach and the water — to let our fellow Americans know that they should come down here. And not just to support the region, but also because it's a beautiful place to visit."

The weekend trip to the Gulf was Obama's fifth since oil began flowing into the Gulf in April and his first since BP successfully capped its broken well earlier this month, effectively plugging the leak.

While both of them encouraged Americans to take summer vacations to the Gulf Coast, the president and first lady have been heavily criticized this summer for traveling elsewhere. Instead of Florida, the first family vacationed together this summer in North Carolina and Maine, and this week is visiting Martha's Vineyard. The first lady and her daughter, meanwhile, took a mother-daughter trip to Spain.

"The 400,000 workers in the travel and tourism industry along the Gulf Coast thank President Obama for his concern about the effects of the recent disaster on travel and tourism, and for recognizing the important signal this visit sends to those considering a vacation in the Gulf region," U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. "Actions like this will send a clear message that the Gulf shoreline remains clean and open for business. Each individual, family or business employee who travels there will play a significant role in saving jobs and helping mitigate the long-term effects of the oil spill on travel and tourism in the region."