BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Local tourism leaders say when it comes to telling visitors about South Mississippi, we need a much larger voice. During Wednesday's state of the tourism industry address, officials said they're looking at creative ways to stretch a very limited marketing budget.
In 2013, tourism leaders said 5.4 million visitors spent $1.8 billion in our area. Officials believe even more people would come if more money was spent on advertising. However, with marketing dollars tied to hotel room taxes, officials said growing their budget isn't easy.
New hotels are going up, existing hotels are expanding and even more are in the planning stages. Still, tourism leaders said there are thousands fewer hotel rooms on the Coast now than there were before Hurricane Katrina. With room taxes tied to tourism advertising funding, that means a tight marketing budget.
"Our competitive cities spend a lot more than we do, and we all know how marketing works. If there's a voice out there, people will buy. If they don't hear from you, they don't know you're there, so we need a louder voice," said Renee Areng, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. "If we don't have money to get our message out, then no one can hear it. We need the opportunity to market ourselves. If they are hearing from our competitive cities, not the Mississippi Gulf Coast, then they might pick the competitive cities instead."
Tourism leaders say our competitive cities, like Memphis, Savannah and Birmingham, spend a lot more on marketing than we do. That is part of the reason they say the creation of a three county tourism board was needed.
"It may not help us bring more money right now, because our room tax is two percent, and that is what it's going to be," said board member Jimmie Ladner. "What it does by doing a regional approach is we're not duplicating efforts. We're spending our money wiser, better and getting a bigger bang for our buck. Even if it is the same amount we were collecting two years ago, now we're spending it all going in the same direction."
Officials said they are exploring nontraditional ways of getting their message out
"Print is always going to be a traditional way of messaging, but there is no way to get feedback from the traveler from print," said Areng. "We can, with search engine marketing and banner advertising and mobile displays and different partnerships that we might be able to build with some of the attractions in the area and some of our regional partners."
In a few months Coast residents will be asked to take part in a new social media campaign called Experience the Local's Way of Life.
"Through social media, it will be a hashtag that we will launch. We'll share it with our local communities and ask them to start hashtagging their posts on social media so visitors can follow as well. Because we know visitors research destinations through social media," Areng said.
Tourism leaders say one in every five jobs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is tourism related.