Consultant Recommends Improved Tourism Marketing

A tourism consultant says the Mississippi Gulf Coast needs to do a better job selling itself to visitors.

The consultant's initial assignment was to study a possible merger of the Harrison County Tourism Commission and the Mississippi Coast Coliseum Commission.

But the end result includes a widespread call for change in tourism marketing.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors commissioned the study, and heard the findings of the report Monday morning.

John Christison works for a Seattle based tourism consulting firm. He's also general manager of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. His report goes well beyond that question of consolidating two commissions. It recommends sweeping changes for marketing the coast as a tourist destination.

"A real pretty place. Nice weather. It's just beautiful," said Karen Parks, as she enjoyed the warm sunshine of the Mississippi Gulf Coast while visiting the beach.

The Parks family finds the coast a relaxing stopover on a vacation that's taking them to Disney World.

A consultant says we should be attracting even more such visitors.

"It is a very, very strong destination. But it's not being sold as that," explained John Christison, as he presented his report to the board of supervisors.

He told the board there needs to be clear, coordinated message for selling the coast.

"There are a lot of people spending a lot of time and a lot of money right now marketing the destination, but it is not necessarily a coordinated effort. And that's one of the central themes we presented this morning," he explained.

His recommendations include improving the marketing message to create brand identity. The report also says the coast needs a new convention center facility, that's used solely for conventions, not local events. And it recommends an increase in the hotel-motel tax to help fund improvements.

The director of the coast coliseum and convention center says another study, due out soon, will support the call for more convention space.

"I don't want to speak before the report comes out. But I think the report is coming back as a very positive need for expanded, or purpose built facilities on the grounds," said Holmes.

Creating brand identity or awareness is a part of the marketing challenge. One tourism slogan, never worked.

"In the past we've used "Playground of the South". We took that out on the road for focus groups. And a lot of people said the "Playground of the South" is Disney or the "Playground of the South" is Florida beaches. It didn't fly," said Harrison County tourism director, Steve Richer.

Tourism leaders told WLOX News they welcome any suggestions for improvements to keep families like the Parks coming back.

As for the original intent of the study, the consultant does "not" recommend merging the coliseum and tourism commissions. He suggested they need to do a better job of communicating and coordinating an overall marketing strategy.

Supervisors took no action. They've assigned a committee to take a closer look at the report's recommendations.