Tourism Leaders Look At High Tech Marketing Research Effort

The Sparacinos rolled into town early, so they could get a prime parking place. In their RV's trailer was one of the Gold Wing trikes their Florida company rebuilt. Tony Sparacino was riding in the other one. "Riding any motorcycle," he said, "whether it's a trike or two wheels, you have the same feeling."

The Sparacinos will showcase the rebuilt trikes this weekend at the coliseum's Gold Wing rally. "We're staying two nights in the RV," Peggy Sparacino said. "Then we're checking into a local motel, because we have a whole group coming over from Florida."

Events like the annual Gold Wing rally need very little marketing help from South Mississippi. These functions guarantee large crowds for area hotels, restaurants and casinos simply because of their membership numbers.

But what about other times of the year. How do tourism leaders like Al Hopkins know if their ads are working? "We have to have this kind of information," the tourism commission president said. "We have to do this kind of marketing."

Inside the convention center, Hopkins and his fellow tourism commissioners listened to four marketing presentations. At their next meeting, they'll hire one of the companies to redo their web site, so guests can book reservations on line, and the agency can track its marketing effectiveness. The program could cost taxpayers $200,000. "It's the kind of thing that we have to have to compete with Las Vegas, New York, Boston, Chicago, wherever," said Hopkins.

The ultimate goal of the new technology is to make sure hotels fill up and conventioneers pack into parking lots, so everybody has a smooth ride around South Mississippi.