Tourism leaders worry about perception versus reality - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Tourism leaders worry about perception versus reality

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It was a case of perception versus reality at a meeting at the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center Tuesday afternoon. An estimated 100 people involved in some aspect of the tourism industry on the coast were there to meet with a representative from BP, and several local and state government officials.

The concern that was expressed over and over again dealt with the perception much of the nation apparently has that South Mississippi is in a "lock down mode" preparing for whatever that spill in the Gulf of Mexico brings our way.

The reality is, the Mississippi Coast is prepared and cautiously optimistic that most of that oil may miss our coastline. Those in attendance want the nation to know that we are open for business, our beaches are clean, and our seafood is safe to eat.

The challenge now is to get that message out in the face of so much negative publicity about the oil slick and its possible consequences. The cost of letting people know things are fine down here will not be cheap. An ad executive told BP it would cost millions of dollars to run ads promoting the Mississippi Gulf Coast and all we have to offer in the wake of this oil spill.

The state director of tourism, Mary Beth Wilkerson, understands it will take a lot of money to get the word out.

"Certainly from an advertising standpoint, that does take money. But we would look to other resources," Wilkerson said.

One of those "resources" she is referring to is BP. The BP spokesman at the meeting said he would welcome input from those in advertising and tourism about how much money they would need to effectively get the message out.

Those who have spent their careers in the hospitality business hope BP loosens the purse strings. Linda Hornsby with the hotel-motel association is cautiously optimistic.

"I hope they will," she said. "I hope, because it is about business and they realize how important that is for all of us down here."

Bob Bennett, who has owned a beachfront hotel in Biloxi for 23 years, was one of the people at the meeting.

"I have already had one reunion canceled," a frustrated Bennett said. "The reasoning was, the kids would play on the beach and come home all full of oil, and they were worried the older people could not take the smell."

So dispelling that perception is the challenge South Mississippi faces right now. The captain of the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, which has been operating here for more than 50 years, said the key is to stay pro-active and positive.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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