GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The tourism industry in the three coastal counties is looking up, but according to Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is still work to be done.
The big discussion at Tuesday's State of the Tourism industry meeting in Gulfport focused on how officials plan on bringing more visitors to South Mississippi in 2018.
Tourism industry leader and Pascagoula native Butch Spyridon spoke about the hurdles he and his team overcame to make Nashville the top destination in the world for five straight years. Many were eager to hear his keys to success.
"Engage with the convention and visitors bureau, support the initiatives, respond to leads. So much of what we do relies on customer service and being extra friendly," said Spyridon. "When you're nice to your guests word spreads pretty quickly."
The annual meeting also included an update on the current state of tourism and future of the industry in the three coastal counties.
"Everyday we have to work harder and smarter and get more jobs and get more visitors to the coast, more economic development," said Bill Holmes, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast commissioner.
According to officials, the number of hotel rooms is increasing with close to a thousand more expected to open in 2018.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Director of Sales Janice Jefferson, there is an aggressive travel schedule for the fiscal year targeting new business. That's something local businesses hope will bring in more revenue.
"I'd like to get more traffic, especially on Pass Road. We have a lot of locals come in, but we'd like to see more out-of-towners come in," said Michelle VanHorn, manager of Bananas Mini Golf and Arcade in Gulfport.
Officials also talked about Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast's new app, which launched in May. It has 2,640 downloads, which is one of many ways they are able to communicate with visitors.
In a 2015, visitor profile study some of the key findings officials shared include:
The top five overnight trip activities and experiences in 2015 include: casino, shopping, beach/waterfront, fine dining and swimming
The average number of nights spent on the coast was 3.3. nights.
Casinos were the more frequent purpose for an overnight trip.
Over the past year, South Mississippi tourism has been featured in big publications such as Vogue, USA Today, Cosmopolitan. There were a total of 3,000 articles written about the Coast, with an estimated media value of $5 million.
The advertising objectives for Visit MS Gulf Coast include: increase awareness of the MS Gulf Coast as an authentic coastal destination, increase awareness of specific offerings here, increase traffic to GulfCoast.org, support meeting and event efforts and increase overnight visitation.
The target audience includes young adults without children ages, mature adults-45-64, and geotourists.
"The visitor does not care what county they're in. They care if they are having a good time, if they are creating a memory," said Spyridon.