Hurricanes, oil spills and stiff competition from tourist attractions around the state havent been strong enough to keep the Gulf Coasts tourism industry down, say tourism officials with the Mississippi Development Authority, touting strong economic impact figures to back up their claims that area tourism is not only back to pre-disaster levels, but shows signs of surpassing previous records.
Now that most of the Katrina cleanup has been done and revitalization across the Gulf Coast appears to be on the rise, the area is once again serving as a key component in the states overall tourism efforts, said Mary Beth Wilkerson, MDAs director of tourism.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism is a large part of the Mississippi tourism industrys offerings and economic impact, Wilkerson said. Mississippis visitor expenditures in fiscal year 2011 were right at $6 billion and the Coasts expenditures were $1.7 billion, so one can see the Coasts contribution is significant. Mississippis other regions and destinations with their diverse tourism offerings make strong contributions as well. We have to attract visitors to Mississippi first, and then they can discover all of our incredible tourism experiences throughout all parts of the state.
Wilkerson said despite setbacks in tourism in recent years due to the aftermath of Katrina and the BP oil spill, perception of the Coast as a vacation destination or ideal location for a business meeting or convention has risen steadily in the past two years.
I know we have done tremendous work both on the state level, local level and through our local tourism stakeholders to make visitors aware the Coast has exceptional travel offerings, Wilkerson said. The industrys recovery from Katrina has been steady to again showcase the Gulf Coast as a vacation destination.
The Gulf Coasts gaming industry is a major tourist draw, but having to share a piece of the pie with Natchez, Vicksburg, Tunica and New Orleans has had an impact, Wilkerson admits. However, she is quick to add that the Gulf Coasts total package of resort-like amenities gives it a niche the other cities do not possess.
Each Mississippi gaming destination has its unique appeal for the visitor, Wilkerson said. Most work to showcase gaming along with their other particular assets. The Coast is able to promote the resort destination aspect with its Gulf recreational activities, along with the strong cultural experiences in the area. And, new offerings such as Infinity and Ohr-OKeefe Museum will undoubtedly add to the total vacation package for those looking for ancillary trips and attractions in addition to the time they spent in the casinos.
Conventions such as the Southern Gaming Summit held earlier this month in Biloxi have a positive impact on the area and even create a ripple effect on the rest of the states tourist areas when visitors take side trips to attractions in other parts of Mississippi, Wilkerson said.
The Southern Gaming Convention, like other major conventions that come to the Coast or any other area of the state, always offer an opportunity to showcase Mississippi as well as make an economic impact, Wilkerson said. Many times hosting conventions such as this bring in visitors who have never been to Mississippi. Once they travel here and experience the hospitality and see what we have to offer, they are turned into repeat visitors and can be advocates for travel to Mississippi.
When marketing the Coast to tourists or business leaders looking for a convention site, Wilkerson said there is no shortage of attractive features and amenities to use in describing the area. In fact, some are permanent fixtures that cant be obliterated, despite natural disasters or the nations economic status.
Climate and value are constant key points we use when promoting the Coast as a meeting destination, Wilkerson said. Of course we offer first class facilities, accommodations, entertainment and ancillary amenities. Overall, the Coast offers tremendous value over other more known meeting destinations and that is a fact that has remained unchanged over the years.
Similarly, Mississippis tourism industry has held steady over the past few years despite a national recession, man-made disasters and natural disasters, most notable Katrina, which impacted over a 100-mile radius of the state.
There have been certain areas that have not fared as well as others but from an overall perspective the statewide tourism industry has been holding steady, Wilkerson added. This is evidenced by the fact that our economic contributions for FY11 increased over figures recorded in FY10 and visitors expenditures were up 8 percent. Tourism is booming in Mississippi and indicators point to a continued increase in this area. The Gulf Coast has always and is expected to continue to be a major contributor to the sizable economic impact our state experiences from the tourism industry.
Wilkerson said collaboration and partnerships are two of the main areas of focus at MDA Tourism in the ongoing efforts to increase tourism impact. The Gulf Coast benefits from both of these areas when tourism officials are showcasing other areas of the state to potential visitors or businesses.
We provide ongoing cooperative marketing initiatives to enhance all of our efforts to attract more visitors to Mississippi, Wilkerson said. We coordinate statewide media and travel trade industry familiarization tours, coordinate collaborative sales missions to key markets and we support local tourism initiatives and projects. For example, MDA Tourism in partnership with the Coast tourism officials lured the International Association of Golf Tour Operators to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for its annual convention in June. This will showcase Mississippi and the Coast as a premier destination to golf tour operators and media from around the world.