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Mississippi Gulf Coast Bounces Back From KatrinaFebruary 19, 2007 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
The site is expected to become a top tier destination in the next few years
Several Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism officials met with Travel
Agent recently to discuss on-going efforts to not only bring back the
tourists the destination had before Hurricane Katrina struck the coast, but to
make the site the most desirable it has ever been.
Nicole Learson, director of marketing for the Mississippi
Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Al Hopkins, president of the
Harrison County Tourism Commission, sat down with the magazine and were excited
to report that the tourism infrastructure is pretty much back to normal
following Katrina, and efforts are being made to keep the momentum going.
The current room inventory on the
is about 10,000 out of the 17,000 rooms that were available pre-Katrina,
coast rebuilds, that number is expected to grow to 30,000, Learson says.
With added rooms, meeting space, air transportation and new
is expecting to become a top-tier destination.
"Agents really need to learn and know this area very
well to sell it effectively," says Bert Bueg, who, along with his wife,
operates Bert and Joyce Bueg Independent Travel Agents in Seminole, FL, which
sends about 25 percent of its clientele to the Mississippi Gulf Coast annually.
"The coast offers something for every type of client,"
Bueg says, noting that seniors looking to spend short three-day vacations along
the coast are an increasing market. "So you need to know what attractions
it has, what opportunities there are, in order to know what to recommend to
Some background on this evolving destination follows.
is operating at 120 percent of the seating capacity that was available before
Katrina. In December, it added two daily nonstop flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth on
American Airlines, and Air Tran has resumed daily
The $56 million expansion to double the airport began in
2004 and will be completed during the first quarter of this year. When it is
finished, the gateways will increase from four to eight,
Ten casinos are currently open with more proposed, including
a Foxwoods Resort Casino and Resort. (At press time, no further details
were available on that property's construction timetable.)
Some of the other developments include The Island View
Casino Resort, which is investing $200 million in a casino, 562 hotel
rooms, 1,035 slots, 14 table games and a 350-seat buffet. Phase one was
completed on September 18, and phase two is expected to open in the spring.
Also, Hard Rock Casino is rebuilding to up its
capacity to 318 rooms, including 24 suites, a spa and fitness center, a
1,200-capacity entertainment center, five restaurants, 1,500 slot machines, 50
table games and poker rooms. The opening date is slated for July 7.
The Bacaran Bay Casino Resort will be opening a 646-unit,
all-suite hotel and casino.
So, what's contributing to the influx of new casinos to the
Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed a dozen floating
casinos along the
Governor Haley Barbour signed a bill in 2005 that allowed casinos to be rebuilt
up to 800 feet inland.
"There's no question we are going to keep getting
additional properties because of the new rule,"
rule really helped alleviate a lot of the problems we had. It really encouraged
major players to get involved with developing on the coast."
The Sliver Slipper, which opened in November 2006,
was the first casino in
to be built on land. In
1,000 slot machines and 26 table games, plus a 10-table poker room.
More Than Just Gaming
"There is so much more [on the
casinos—there's excellent fishing, famous vineyards with wine tasting and more.
The only way to really learn about it is to get there and experience it for
yourself," says Bueg.
Here are some highlights of new attractions. A temporary
location for the Walter Anderson Museum opened in December in the
Historic Glenn Swetman House. Learson says there are plans in the works to
incorporate photos and archives from Katrina in the museum. Also, work toward
the new $32 million Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in
attraction, is scheduled to open in early 2009 with a 3-D theater and expansive
galleries with exhibits about oceans and space. A themed restaurant, a gift
shop and exhibitions with real earth and space artifacts round out the plans.
Also, the MGCCVB is looking to further promote activities
geared toward volunteering in the continuing effort to recover from
Katrina. To date, the destination has received about 450,000 visitors for the
sole purpose of volunteering, and there is still much work to be done, Learson
says, noting that the MGCCVB is looking to work with Travelocity to promote
volunteer-driven vacations to the coast.
Through MGCCVB's main wholesalers Mayflower Tours,
tourists can take a full tour of sites impacted by Katrina. The tour is divided
into stations with markers that tell tourists exactly how high the water level
reached at that particular spot. For more information, call Mayflower Tours at
In three-to-five years, the
tier-one destination. Learson says for that to happen, there must be a minimum
of 30,000 rooms in the region.
There has been more than $600 million invested into current
and future condominium projects on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including the
Legacy Tower, which is 200 units, Sea Breeze, which is 185 units, the $95
million The Ocean Club, which will open up 375 units, and the Shores of
Paradise, with 476 town homes and condominium units. Learson says most of these
properties can be rented and are commissionable for agents.
"We were there before Katrina and we were there after
Katrina," Bueg says. "We liked what we saw there, the people we met,
the hotels we stayed at, and we can tell you that the
right now. It will become a huge sell for agents."
Where Are Visitors Coming From?
Hopkins says about one-third of the destination's visitors
come by car, one-third fly in from across the U.S. and one-third come from
the destination is getting a lot more people from
people learned about the region and the South in general.
Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 228-896-6699, ext. 210 Web