Tourism leaders discuss success and challenges

Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Photo source: WLOX News)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - New hotel projects are coming to the coast, but tourism leaders say more money is needed to market the destination.

Thursday morning, the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting to discuss the future of coast tourism. Investors are taking notice of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"You won't find any better time to invest on the Mississippi Gulf Coast if you're trying to develop a hotel. Property is going to become more valuable. So you better get in now. That needs to be our message," said hotel manager, and Biloxi city council president, Kenny Glavan.

He pointed to the successful development of the White House Hotel, suggested there may soon be news about the old Casino Magic Hotel and told the crowd his own Four Points by Sheraton hotel is about to upgrade.

"The ownership is committing to a $4 million makeover because they see we need to keep up with making sure that the visitors to the Mississippi Gulf Coast have the experience to keep them coming back," he said.

Baseball is also attracting investment.

"We've got a baseball stadium that's being built right next door. And there are several hotel developers interested in developing the north side," he said.

Linda Hornsby says the coast now has nearly 80 percent of the hotel rooms it had pre-Katrina. The better news, she says, involves something they call rev-par.

"Revenue per available room is what the investors look at. And we are seeing it inch up in 2014. It's not zooming, but that gap, what was a deficit, is now closing," she explained.

The biggest challenge facing tourism may be finding enough money to properly promote this destination.

"It's all about funding, unfortunately. We're competing against destinations that have a lot more advertising dollars. So it's about being creative with that. And sharing the experience with the potential visitor," said regional tourism director, Renee Areng.

She says for every dollar spent marketing the coast, a visitor will spend $17 at this destination.

The Governor's Conference on Tourism is coming to the coast this weekend. It opens Sunday at Beau Rivage in Biloxi and continues through Tuesday afternoon.

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