Bring on the tourists!

May 21, 2012 

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start of the peak tourism season and Mississippi — especially South Mississippi — is hoping that 2012 will be the first really good tourism season in a few years.

BP America is spending tens of millions of dollars nationally to promote the entire Gulf Coast area, and the campaigns have had a positive impact on tourism in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, according to tourism officials in those states.

In addition to BP’s direct spending, the Harrison County Tourism Commission will spend about $1 million advertising over the next few months and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Tourism Partnership has committed several million dollars to marketing the Mississippi Coast throughout the Southeastern United States.

Three days of live coverage of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, a PGA Champions Tour event won by former Masters champion Fred Couples, reached millions of golfers across the country, and this month’s 20th annual Southern Gaming Summit will produce significant national exposure for the Coast’s gaming industry.

Weather forecasters are predicting a mild summer season with a reduced threat of hurricanes, and an improving national economy gives cause to expect more Americans will be travelling this summer season.

The opening of the Infinity Science Center along I-10 outside NASA’s Stennis Space Center, a heavy schedule of summer festivals and events, and growing interest in cultural and eco-tourism add reasons for optimism as we approach this summer tourist season.

So what’s at stake?

Tourism is the industry the Mississippi Coast is depending upon to grow jobs revenues at a time when federal jobs and government expenditures are being reduced due to the federal deficit.

Coast tourism activity has dropped since its 2004 high; Katrina, the recession, the 2010 oil spill, and competition from new casino markets popping up around the nation have created real challenges for the industry. But the challenges have also forced Coast tourism stakeholders and public officials to take a fresh look at the industry and how they are managing it.

A resolution to create a three-county public sector Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) to combine the tourism budgets of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties into one organization with direct stakeholder leadership, which was supported by 14 of the Coast’s 15 county supervisors and by a vote of more than 70 percent of the stakeholder leadership, failed to clear the House’s local and private committee this year. But it will be back in January.

The Gulf Coast Tourism Partnership, a private-sector regional organization created to administer a $16 million BP tourism grant, has demonstrated the value of a regional approach to tourism.

Things are changing in the tourism arena. It’s a jobs and market sector no longer taken for granted. Expectations are high and tourism leaders are looking for results. Hopefully, 2012’s tourist season will provide them.

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