SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - A "clean" audit and an optimistic outlook on Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism. Tourism Director Renee Areng delivered both to the Harrison County Board of Supervisors Monday morning.
"So, you have before you a clean audit without exceptions, which we're proud to say, being the first year we were truly funded by all three counties," Areng told board members.
She told supervisors the "one voice" approach is working well to draw additional visitors. And the latest numbers support that strategy.
"We saw an eight percent increase in overall visitation in 2016 over 2015, which is a huge jump. Eight percent increase in non-casino revenue, which is a great jump as well. And the casinos themselves are doing very well," said the tourism executive.
Areng said development of new hotels along the coast is further proof that the destination if moving forward.
"We're seeing more development across the market. There was a six percent increase in new inventory and rooms. We see that continuing to grow," she explained.
The director said perhaps the biggest challenge facing the local tourism industry is doing more, with less. Competing markets are spending more money.
"Our biggest challenge, I believe, is that our competitive set spends a lot more in marketing themselves than our budget allows. So, it's continuing to maximize the marketing dollars we do have so that people who don't know about the coast can learn about the coast. And those that do know about the Mississippi Gulf Coast know all the great things going on here," said Areng.
The demand for Eco-tourism continues to grow, and the coast is well-positioned to be a player in that market.
"Nature-based tourism is huge, especially for the millennials. But even going into the baby boomers, they like to get outdoors and enjoy what's authentic," she said.
The director told supervisors her sales staff is working to bring more convention business to the coast. One conference they're courting is the International Police Mountain Bike Association. That would bring about 500 visitors to the Mississippi Gulf Coast next spring.