Tourism leaders say they need more money

By WLOX Staff

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - If you are a resident of Harrison County, would you support a countywide 2% food and beverage tax to raise money to promote tourism? A committee has been formed to study the issue.

Katrina recovery issues and the recession have taken a toll on South Mississippi's tourism industry and those who rely on tourism say more money is needed to market the coast. "The more money you have to promote and advertise the more tourists you get. That's just the way it works" says Bob Bennett, owner of the Edgewater Inn and President of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.

Right now there is a 12% tax on hotel rooms. 7% goes to the state, 3% goes to the convention center expansion and 2% is directed to promote tourism. The Harrison County Visitors and Convention Bureau has a total budget of $5.1 million, $3.2 million of which goes towards selling the coast. When Bennett was asked if that was enough, he said "Not even Close. We're trying to operate a Super Wal Mart on a Harry's Ace Hardware budget".

The idea of a 2% food and beverage tax is in the preliminary stage. The Mississippi Legislature would have to approve an initiative to put it on the ballot and voters in Harrison County would have to approve it.

New taxes are never popular, but Bennett says the challenge is to convince people that everyone benefits from a strong tourism industry " A rising tide raises all boats. More tourists and everyone does better".

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