Summer tourism off to a slow start

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The calendar says summer doesn't officially begin until the end of next week. But for the coast tourism industry, the busy season is already underway.

Tourist attractions WLOX News surveyed report at least average crowds so far this summer. But hotel occupancy numbers are disappointing and trending downward.

Keep in mind, it's still early in the season and tourism leaders remain hopeful. The beach near the lighthouse attracted a crowd on this hot morning.

"Just relaxing. Just coming down and relaxing," said a visitor from the lone star state.

Teachers from Texas were taking in some Biloxi sunshine. Their lesson plan is simple.

"Lay out on this beach and relax," said Renee Foley.

"We all teach together and we just wanted to get out and relax in the sun. Have a good time getting away for a little while," said Vicky Carrigan.

"I think Biloxi is beautiful. I like the old with the new. And the beach. Fabulous. And it's kind of quiet. Not super busy. I love it," added Joan Madden.

Passengers aboard the Biloxi Shrimping Trip enjoyed a serenade before the boat trip. There were available seats on the 10:30 tour, but business is picking up.

"As of the past two or three days, we've been doing really well. I'm excited. And hopefully things keep at a good steady pace," said owner, Michael Moore.

Hotel occupancy numbers don't look promising. April, the latest available, was down 12 percent from last year. But numbers at the Biloxi visitors center are encouraging.

"March was great. April went down a little bit. May was gang busters. We looked at a 20 percent increase in May. And June looks like it's on track to repeat what we did in May. So, I'm real happy with it," said Bill Raymond with the City of Biloxi.

"I love the atmosphere and the sun and it's clean water," said Margaret Sonnier from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

She and husband, Donald, were on the beach with the grand children. What the Sonniers love most are the smiles on the faces of those youngsters.

"This is our first time! And we're having a good time," said a little girl, smiling and showing off seashells.

"I like the water and the hotel," he brother added, excitedly.

We found mixed reviews at several other tourist attractions. Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport says crowds have been average so far.

In Ocean Springs, the Walter Anderson Museum says visitor numbers are up and they credit the new expansion which opened early this year.

Finally, Louis Skrmetta reports Ship Island Excursions is having a very good season so far.

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