Visitors center more than triples its tourism numbers

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Bay St. Louis Visitors Center officials say tourism in Hancock County is on the up swing. The visitors center welcomed about 6,000 people to the historic train depot last year. This year that's up to 20,000.

With friends to come in town for Cruisin' The Coast, Bruce Jennings wanted to be prepared to show them a good time. He said when he needs information about local events and attractions, he heads to the Bay St. Louis Visitors Center.

"Brochures are laying out at certain stores," said Jennings. "But basically I come here because I like to get stuff done right then instead of chasing a bunch of information around town."

The visitors center opened two years ago inside the renovated historic train depot. Tourism officials said the number of visitors is growing because of is the number of things to do in Hancock County is growing. They pointed out an increase in everything from small shops and restaurants to large attractions like Infinity Science Center and Buccaneer State Park.

Hancock County Tourism Bureau Manager Myrna Green said, "I think the fact that we have so much more that is ready and that has been recreated since the storm. People that would come here before, they were waiting to come back. They were waiting for us to be ready and that is our job as a tourism bureau is to let people know that they're ready."

"The expansion of Lazy Magnolia is a wonderful thing. We have our new hotel that is opening on the beach," said Green. "We have restaurants back on the beach and that continues to be an attraction. And Old Town is just growing, growing, growing with its shopping and its quaintness that people can wander around and find all kinds of unique things."

The other way to get people to stop by is by being more than a visitors center. The Mardi Gras Museum opened back in March featuring elaborate costumes that reflect the local culture and heritage.

"Motor coach tours come in you know and they're from Maryland or they're from Michigan and they walk in and they go, 'Oh my goodness,'" said Green.

Delores Emery of Ocean Springs sometimes comes just to look at the different exhibits like the train exhibit and folk art exhibit.

"Very nice. I'm very impressed with the beautiful costumes," Emery said. "I wonder who makes them? I just can't imagine the time and the effort that it takes to make them."

Tourism officials said in October they expect at least 18 buses full of tourists to come through the visitors center.

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