BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "We are now speaking with one voice, to the traveling public."
Those are the words of Tourism Director Renee Areng, who appeared before Harrison County supervisors Monday for next year's budget approval.
The fiscal year 2016 budget for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast is $4 million. By comparison, the Visit Pensacola tourism budget is $5.1 million and the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach tourism budget tops $10 million. Still, our tourism leader is optimistic.
"It's been an exemplary first year," said Renee Areng, as she addressed Harrison County supervisors at Monday's meeting, "I can't believe I've been here a year, feet on the ground for a year."
Areng is upbeat about the state of the coast's tourism industry. With the recent addition of Jackson County, all three coast counties will be working with Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast to attract more visitors.
"We've gotten our infrastructure in place; budgeting, marketing plan. We've begun measuring our key performance indicators, seeing where growth is occurring or not occurring, so we can strategize our digital placement as well as our advertising," said the tourism leader.
One focus of the marketing effort will be sharing the unique stories of the people who make the Mississippi Gulf Coast such a special destination.
"We think by the personal voices that we have to share our stories, we'll encourage the travelers to come," says Areng.
The new marketing plan for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast includes several negatives or so-called "gaps" confronting the tourism industry. Those include visitor perceptions about the Mississippi Sound, limited air service to this area, and the lack of a convention center hotel.
On the plus side, the tourism director is encouraged by new construction and added amenities.
"MGM Park, Scarlet Pearl going up on back bay. The numerous new restaurants that are opening, along with the waterpark resort," she said.
"At this point, we're ecstatic to have all three counties on board with a unified marketing effort. And we'll move forward from there," said Areng.
Two areas of emphasis in the new tourism marketing plan are eco-tourism, for those visitors who enjoy nature-based attractions and culinary tourism, for those travelers who focus most on unique cuisine.