Harrison County

Tourism on the Mississippi Coast is up, but 2019 looks even more promising. Here’s why.

Alligators draw tourists to Jackson County

Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours draws tourists from across the country who want to come face to face with alligators. Visitors are able to take a swamp boat tour to see alligators in their natural habitat.
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Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours draws tourists from across the country who want to come face to face with alligators. Visitors are able to take a swamp boat tour to see alligators in their natural habitat.

The coming year looks promising for tourism and, as a result, the Coast economy, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast says.

The region’s tourism bureau reports room reservations are up for 2018 and group bookings headed into 2019 are already strong. The group bookings are for business meetings and sports teams visiting places such as the Gulfport Sportsplex.

“We have spoken to several hotels across the region, and have received extremely positive forecasts for 2019,” Milton Segarra, CEO of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, says in a news release. “From what we have heard so far, 2018 seems to have been a positive year for the hotel industry, exceeding budgeted occupancy and revenue, and seeing an increase in results over 2017.”

October room sales were up 27 percent over the previous year, the latest tax figures from the state show. Overall, hotel stays for 2018 are up 16 percent.

Traffic to the tourism website gulfcoast.org is up 18 percent over 2017, Segarra said.

Segarra attributes the increased web traffic to advertising the website and the growing number of people who use the internet to book trips.

Tourists are visiting the Coast for casinos, festivals and events, the beach and recreational opportunities, and, Segarra said, because “we are well-known for our Southern hospitality here.”

He said the Coast also has a list of 20 to 25 events that are drawing visitors.

VMGC has been more strategic in marketing the region, he said.

“We are focusing more on the opportunity to attract more business that is within six hours or less of driving time,” he said, “because almost 80 percent of our visitors are driving. We have found that the return on investment on those markets has been so important to us.”

VMGC is re-branding the region with a marketing campaign that rolls out in March. It will be based on extensive research and work with community members, stakeholders, elected officials, clients and tourism executives.

Segarra said VMGC asked hundreds of questions, from how to be more effective to what they believe are the Coast’s strongest assets.

“Working together is the key to bringing more visitors to the Mississippi Gulf Coast” he said, “and we look forward to an exciting future of increased visitation, deepened partnerships and broadened horizons.”

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Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.


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