Hope for Gulf Coast tourism seen in data analysis

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "If you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there," said President of the Gulf Coast Regional Tourism Partnership John McFarland.

He began the presentation, emphasizing the importance of establishing bench marks for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to work toward.

In front of more than 50 people, with essentially every tourism organization in the three coastal counties represented, John Hairston on the Gulf Coast Regional Tourism Partnership Board of directors took the podium.

"Today was sort of a turnover of all the information that came out of the Governor's Gulf Coast Tourism subgroup, turning that information to the new CVB board of directors," said Hairston.

Through nearly two hours of data analysis, Hairston compared numbers, pre and post Katrina.

"Don't believe it from me," said Hairston. "You study it, you read the data for yourself."

The 90 page Go-Coast tourism detailed report highlighted things job growth.

"Tourism is the biggest card we have in the hand that we can play right now. Behind government jobs, it is the number one private sector position that we have on the Gulf Coast," said Hairston. "It is making the largest impact on our economy through job growth two years in a row."

But even with that improvement, Hairston says the tourism industry is still 5,500 jobs shy of the number we saw pre-Katrina.

In stepped John McKee with the Godwin Group to emphasize the importance of having quality tourists.

"We wanted to find more people like the previous visitors," said McKee. "We wanted to get the previous visitors to come back and we also wanted to learn what markets we might reach out to bring those visitors here as well."

The data was presented giving people food for thought as they left and an opportunity to look to the future.

"We're making really good progress and the good news is all the things we have to offer as a tourism destination are here," said Hairston.

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