HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors approved a new budget for the tourism commission at Monday's meeting.
You may recall, Supervisor Connie Rockco made the motion two weeks ago to "table" the tourism budget, saying she had questions about spending practices. The executive director of the tourism commission appeared before the board Monday morning to answer those questions.
Supervisor Rockco said one of her chief concerns is why the million dollar plus advertising contract has been awarded to the so-called "big three" local ad agency group since 2006, with no request for proposals or bids from others.
"We have several different advertising agencies throughout the Harrison County and Gulf Coast area. And when they see time and time again, no opportunity to even answer an RFP or none is allowed, there's some questions," said Rockco.
Tourism Executive Director Beth Carriere said one concern is continuity with the ad campaign.
"We've been very happy with the big three and there was no reason, as the board saw it, to seek other agencies. And for continuity sake, since we're crossing over different fiscal years," she told supervisors.
The tourism commission attorney told supervisors the big three contract has been "extremely competitive."
"Although they did not go out for new RFP's with respect to the big three contract, it was re-negotiated. And it was re-negotiated to the benefit of the tourism commission," said attorney Hugh Keating.
Tourism Director Beth Carriere said when you look at the hotel room night numbers, which is the standard measurement for success in the tourism industry, it has certainly been flat over the past year along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But she suggests part of that can be blamed on the stagnant national economy.
"I think the economy has affected, of course, disposable dollars. And travel often is one of those places where people can cut back," she explained.
"It's my hope that we'll all come together and market the Mississippi Gulf Coast as it should be," said Supervisor Rockco. "As we all know, there's been drama and there's been in-fighting, and it all needs to stop so that we can all work together."
Supervisor Rockco said she has some other concerns about tourism spending and policy. She suggested a future meeting with the tourism commission to discuss those in detail.
The Harrison County Tourism Commission spent roughly $1.8 million on advertising efforts this past year. Besides that money, supervisors pointed out that more than $10 million in BP money has been spent on tourism by the Gulf Coast Tourism Partnership group this year.