Montana: Tourism agencies ‘ready and able to serve now'

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The president of the Harrison County Tourism Commission has sent out what he calls an appeal for support of our Mississippi tourism families.

Ken Montana is the most vocal critic of a plan to combine the tourism marketing efforts in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson Counties into one public/private partnership. In his letter, he writes that the marketing teams in those counties "have a proven track record and can immediately act."

His March 30 letter comes one day after the Harrison County Tourism Commission discussed whether the entire coast would be better served to speak with one voice. As has been reporting in recent days, that voice would come through a tri-county partnership organized by the Gulf Coast Business Council.

Montana says the partnership is the wrong approach. "We have the available agencies in place today that can serve the families of Mississippi," he writes.

At issue, according to the tourism commission president, is millions of dollars in additional BP grant money that could be coming to the gulf coast.

By working together, GCBC leaders like Jack Norris say the entire region will benefit. "It maximizes our limited resources, and frankly, no one north of Wiggins differentiates between Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties. So certainly, no one in Atlanta or Minnesota knows the difference," he said on Saturday's 'WLOX News This Week' program.

Montana doesn't see it that way. His letter includes a plea to Gov. Haley Barbour. "I beseech you and your tourism office to also allow the people of our own coastal tourism industry to guide our destiny without unreasonable outside governmental restrictions and private agendas," he wrote.

After Tuesday's tourism commission meeting, commissioner Jon Lucas said 70% of the convention and visitors bureaus around the country use the public/private partnership being discussed in south Mississippi right now. He says that sort of system gives marketing systems a lot more access to a lot more advertising money.

Lucas also serves on the GCBC board, the group Jack Norris heads up. "So we need to be speaking from one voice for our top line tourism message of visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Norris said when asked about whether this concept would be most beneficial for south Mississippi tourism business owners. "It just makes good business sense. And it puts us at a better competitive position to compete with our competitor markets."

Montana is adamant that the current configuration, where each coastal county markets its own businesses, is the best solution for everybody.  "Tourism leaders, please step forward now," he wrote.  "It's your future.  Take action and publicly stand tall for our tourism family."

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