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
With added rooms, meeting space, air transportation and new
"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 what client."
Some background on this evolving destination follows.
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 area?
Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed a dozen floating
casinos along the
"There's no question we are going to keep getting
additional properties because of the new rule,"
The Sliver Slipper, which opened in November 2006,
was the first casino in
More Than Just Gaming
"There is so much more [on the
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
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 630-435-8500.
In three-to-five years, the
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
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