Tourism officials look back on a strange summer

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Those who make their living in the tourism business in South Mississippi are hoping for a big Labor Day weekend to end a very strange tourism season.

What has been called the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history hit just as the tourism season was about to begin. All those tv images of oil birds were devastating.

"The wrong image was being shown to different sections of the country," Richard Forte of Beauvoir said.

Ken Montana, from the Harrison County Tourism Commission, felt there was nothing that his organization or anyone else could do about it.

"We could not control that, and no matter what amount of public relations and money that was spent, you cannot compete with that type of national attention," Montana said.

Surprisingly, hotel occupancy numbers this year were comparable to last in Harrison County. The problem was BP workers were in those rooms, not tourists. Beauvoir has always been a good barometer of tourism, and its business was down 35 percent from last year, which wasn't a good year.

Richard Forte was not happy with how BP handled this mess from the beginning.

"BP should have come to every business on Highway 90," Forte said. "They should have asked, 'How have you been impacted? What can we do to help?' instead of doing it the way they are doing it now."

BP did give the tourism commission more than $1 million to promote fall events this year. The tourism commission submitted a list of 400 events they could have funded.

"BP handed us funding for ten events, of that list, five are new events," Montana said.

Despite only funding ten events, Montana knows it will make quite a difference.

"We are going to be able to help create almost 50,000 room nights in the next ten weeks," Montana added.

The tourism commission also wanted BP to fund some fall concerts similar to what was done in Gulf Shores with Jimmy Buffett this summer, but BP did not offer any funding for such events in South Mississippi.

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