Gulf Coast Residents Await Impact of the Obama Factor

As cities and beaches along the Gulf Coast try to make an economic rebound from the oil spill, President Obama and his family spend some time in Panama City, Florida this weekend. But businesses and locals alike will be watching to see if a trip just shy of 27 hours long can really make an impact.

The first family will touch down late Saturday morning and be wheels up by mid-afternoon Sunday. It's a very public bid to inspire Americans to vacation and spend money where reluctance to do so has become the norm since the BP incident.

"This is an opportunity to highlight the notion that this important region of the country is still doing well and open for business," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "[W]ell down the coast of Florida, communities that never saw oil are being impacted economically. Tourism in Florida and along the Gulf Coast is the economy."

Greater Panama City area hotels lost about 40-60 percent of their business after the oil spill, even though no oil has washed ashore there and barely a few tar balls were noted by locals.

The first lady laid the groundwork for a return visit when she visited Panama City in mid-July. She pushed heavily for people to spend money in the region and was privately lobbied by locals she met with to do the same.

While in Florida, President and Mrs. Obama will be meeting with business and tourism leaders about the effects lagging tourism has had on the local economy. The president will then speak to the media about what he has learned. However, it's the visual and not the verbal impression of his visit that could be the most enduring.

What the business community wants to see is a family partaking in local businesses and activities, of course. Perhaps most of all, though, they want to see the president actually taking a dip in the ocean. "[That] image does matter to us," Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce President Beth Oltman tells Fox.

"We cannot pay for that media attention-- by just having the president of the United States in our Gulf will show so many different Americans that our waters are safe to come swim in."

Mr. Obama's spokesman won't promise that, but if wordplay is any indication, it's not that far-fetched. "We all know that it's hot enough that the one place you want to be most in the water."Summer's peak season in Panama City came and went with little to show for it, but news of an oil leak plug has injected tourism and commercial interest.

"The phones are ringing again," says Oltman.

The impact of the Obama weekend is yet to be determined.