Hancock County tourism looking optimistic

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - It's one of the most important industries in the State: tourism has a $5.5 billion economic impact in Mississippi according to state tourism leaders.

In recent years, the industry on the Coast has taken a hit from Katrina, then the down turn in the national economy and most recently the BP oil spill.

Leaders in Hancock County tell us why they have reason for optimism for a good summer tourism season.

Some well known local faces from the world of politics traded their days jobs Wednesday afternoon to become tourism ambassadors like: Democratic Senator David Baria of Bay St. Louis and Representative Dirk Dedeaux, (D) District 93 Hancock County

"We want to entice you to go down and hit the Gulf Coast," Baria said. "It's beautiful down there."

"We're here today to promote tourist attractions in our local community ranging from Stennis Space Center to the Gulf Of Mexico and everywhere in between," Dedeaux said.

As part of National Travel and Tourism Week, the Hancock County I-10 Welcome Center rolled out the red carpet for visitors to the state who made a stop here.

Welcome Center Manager Bobbie Tate said, "National Travel and Tourism week is a week where we let our tourist know how much we appreciate them visiting our area, and we just show them a little extra special hospitality while they are here."

Tourism leaders say last year's summer season suffered greatly by the BP oil spill, the national economy and post Katrina infrastructure work in Hancock County.

"We are much improved over how we were, how we looked, the quality of our product before Katrina, so we are wide-open ready for visitors to come," Hancock County Tourism Director Beth Carriere said.

Tourism leaders said the increasing numbers give them reason for optimism. In the first five months of last year, 101,000 tourists visited the Hancock County Welcome Center. In the same time frame this year, 107,000 tourists passed through.

"We've seen approximately 2,000 more tourists per month as opposed to last year. So I think more and more people are traveling this year," Tate said.

Carriere said what Hancock County has to offer tourists continues to grow, too.

"Barnacle Bill's is a new attraction that's being added to our area and should open in a week or two," Carriere said. "We're very excited about that! So between fishing, crabbing, playing in the sand, going in the water, going to Stennis, enjoying the restaurants and the shops and the whole historic aspect of this area, there's not much more than a little family could ask for."

Tourism leaders are hoping to capitalize on the current gas crisis. They are hoping residents from neighboring Louisiana will opt for shorter distance vacations and choose Hancock County for their summer fun.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.