Source: BP to give $16M for MS Coast tourism marketing

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Sources inside Mississippi's tourism industry tell WLOX News that BP is giving an additional $16 million to promote and market tourism along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Governor Haley Barbour made the official announcement about 30 minutes after first broke the story online.

"BP's $16 million grant to promote tourism on the Mississippi Coast will assist coastal tourism leaders in recapturing visitation and tourism revenues that were negatively impacted during 2010," Gov. Barbour said in a statement Friday.

BP gave state and local entities $18 million to promote tourism on the Gulf Coast in 2010. But the decisions on how to spend the money were made by tourism officials in Jackson. And that drew heavy criticism from Gulf Coast tourism leaders who felt there should have been more local control.

Because of those concerns, the spending decisions this time will be made under the oversight of a 501(C)6, governed by a regional board of directors. Those directors would be tourism industry related experts from Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

The goal is to provide representation from all three Coast counties and a singular-regional tourism message.

The 501(C)6 is the Mississippi Coast Regional Tourism Partnership organized by the Gulf Coast Business Council.

"The Business Council has facilitated a group of over 70 volunteers who have worked through a four year period to study the best possible method of significantly growing the Coast tourism industry," said John Hairston, Co-Chair of the Council's Premier Destination Committee. "The Tourism Partnership was created for the purpose of providing a private/public partnership to promote tourism, commonly referred to as a Destination Marketing Organization. This initial organization will be used to provide regional, experienced oversight of the $16 million tourism grant. We hope and expect the Tourism Partnership will eventually combine with the Harrison County Tourism Commission to form a single regional, well-funded partnership. That decision would be made by the Tourism Partnership Board of Directors and County Supervisors."

At the Governor's suggestion, each entity represented on the Gulf Coast Tourism Steering Committee, which managed the $15 million state grant from BP in 2010, also will be represented on the Tourism Partnership board to ensure continuity with that successful effort. The Business Council will partner with the county Boards of Supervisors to name directors.

"BP is very pleased to be working cooperatively with Governor Barbour and the state on this road from response to restoration," said Luke Keller, BP America's Gulf Coast Restoration Executive Vice President. "The agreement we will sign is a further example of BP's commitment to doing what is in the best interest of the state and the people of Mississippi. Today's announcement brings BP's commitment to Mississippi to $34 million for tourism."

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