Will more BP money go towards promoting tourism?

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A new agency, called the Mississippi Coast Regional Tourism Partnership, will decide what to do with $16 million dollars in additional money from BP.

The agency is a public-private partnership created by the Gulf Coast Business Council, and will involve people from all three coastal counties.

Jack Norris is the agency's director. "You have individuals who are very experienced at investing and marketing dollars to grow a market, grow business and grow jobs," Norris told WLOX News.

There are an estimated 20,000 people who work in some type of tourism related job in South Mississippi.

Tourism is a $1.6 billion industry in South Mississippi, but the hope and the dream is it could be a lot bigger.

"Are we missing opportunities on the coast?" John McFarland asked. He's the tourism partnership's chairman and has years of experience in marketing.

"If there is so much more, which we happen to believe is the case, how do we get there," McFarland said.

According to McFarland, that is what the $16 million is for.

The first BP grant of $15 million could only be spent on advertising, but this additional $16 million will not have that restriction.

"It gives us an opportunity to do what we said we needed to do all along, but did not have the money to do. Real research and real planning," McFarland added.

The money will be spread out over the next three years. That means BP has now given $31 million to the state to promote tourism in some way.

Jack Norris said that BP has been a very good partner with the coast tourism industry. McFarland agreed, and call this a very exciting time for coast tourism.