Tourism industry suffering along with national economy

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors heard a report Monday on how the ailing economy is impacting tourism. Although the numbers are improving, it's been a less than successful summer.

Hotel sales tax revenue has been on the decline since last October. And while the worst may be over for the coast tourism industry, Harrison County's tourism director admits these are uncertain times.

"I don't think we've turned the corner, but we may be able to see the corner down the street a little ways," Tourism Director Richard Forester told county supervisors Monday morning.

Flanked by his tourism commissioners, Forester told county supervisors he's cutting his budget by ten percent. The state of the tourism industry is rather tenuous right now.

"We hope that we're seeing some positive signs. After three straight months of double digit declines in hotel occupancy on the coast, we've seen a little bit of an improvement in that. The decline continued for the month of June, but it was only down six percent as opposed to 35 percent the previous month," he said.

"It's close to home," said David Heath, when asked about his visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"We love to come over here whenever we can," his wife Nancy added.

The couple from Gretna, Louisiana, is celebrating her birthday by enjoying an extended weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"The food. The beaches. You know, we do a little shopping at the outlet mall sometimes. It's a good little trip to get away from work and just relax," said David, explaining what they like about the coast.

"It's relaxing. Good food. And, I don't know, I just like the scenery, like the beach," his wife added.

But the Heaths are apparently more the exception than the rule on this Monday morning.

A beach vendor who's been doing business for 29 years said he's never seen it this slow, this time of year.

"I think the economy. Plus the kids have gone back to school. But other years they've gone back to school and there's still been quite a few customers.  Up until now, it's been kind of medium. But in the last few days, it's like somebody turned the key off," said Raleigh Carter

"The first two weekends in August were promising. So, we're hoping we're seeing a little bit of a turn around. But of course, with the economy like it is, it's uncharted territory for many of us," Forester told the supervisors.

A couple of positive notes from the tourism director: He's excited about the new web site they're launching in early September. Plus, he's hired a new sales person to focus on the sports marketing niche of the tourism industry.

That effort may include creating a "sports venue guide" to help market the coast.

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