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Obamas take weekend trip to Florida

US President Barack Obama is joining his family for a short trip to Florida as he bids to boost the area's sagging tourism industry in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The president, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Sasha were planning to spend much of their 27-hour trip to Panama City enjoying the area's recreational activities.

But Mr Obama has also scheduled a meeting with small business owners as the US government's focus moves from plugging the oil leak to rebuilding the region's economy.

The trip gives the president an opportunity to "talk to those that have been affected by the damage caused by BP... about what has to happen going forward to restore, both economically and environmentally, the damage that's been done," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Florida governor Charlie Crist and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor appointed by Mr Obama to develop a long-term Gulf restoration plan, were to join the president in the meeting with business owners.

The White House said that participants would include the mayors of Panama City and Panama City Beach, the general manager of a three-hotel chain that has had 1,000 cancellations due to the spill, the owner of a charter boat company, and the co-owner of a restaurant and two fishing boats.

In Florida, and particularly its Panhandle, it's tourism - the state's biggest industry - that has been hurt most by the spill.

Tourism officials say the region typically brings in 70% of its yearly income between June and August. Although only 16 of the 180 beaches in the western part of the Panhandle were affected by the spill, tourism officials say many potential visitors have stayed away, deterred by images of oil-slicked waters and beaches in other parts of the region.

The head of the US Travel Association has proposed that BP, responsible for the oil spill, set aside 500 million US dollars (£320 million) for a marketing campaign to help draw tourists to the Gulf states.

The White House scheduled the Obamas' weekend trip after facing criticism that the president wasn't heeding his own advice that Americans should holiday in the Gulf.

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