Hotel occupancy drops, tourism leaders' optimism remains high

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Some coast tourism leaders remain optimistic about the rest of the summer vacation season, despite a dramatic drop in the number of people booking hotel rooms. According to the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association, hotel stays for May were down almost 24 percent from the same month last year.

"We need more business," Association Director Linda Hornsby. "That's putting it simply, and we're doing everything we can to get that."

In May 2008, 73 percent of the coast hotel rooms had guests. This past May, that was down to just under 56 percent.

Hornsby said, "2008 was a such a banner year. So you're comparing probably one of our lowest years, lowest Mays, to one of the highest. So that explains the disparity."

Harrison County Tourism Director Richard Forester said, "Hotel revenues are down and casino revenues are down, but people are still traveling."

Coast leaders say projections for hotel occupancy for June and July are better.

"As a matter a fact, we know that there are quite a few hotels, non-casino hotels here in Gulfport and Biloxi that are full for the next two weekends. I think people are trying to get that last summer trip in before school starts again. People are traveling. They're just not spending as much money while they're here."

Many hotels are offering guests three nights for the price of two to give people more for their buck. Tourism officials say they're encouraging restaurants, retailers, and attractions to offer those guests added discounts.

Another initiative about to start in about a week is to have college volunteers do surveys to get to know coast visitors.

"Finding out as much as they can about them," said Forester. "Where they are from. What they are here for. What they are spending. Where they are staying. What they are doing. That will help us learn more about who are customers and who our visitors are to make it easier for us to more effectively market to our customers."

The average room price for May fell from $84 in 2008 a night to $79.84 a night in 2009.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.