Jerry and Nancy Schneider are from Tampa, Florida. They say patriotism compelled them to jump in their car and take a four day vacation. "We're doing exactly what the president asked us to do," Mrs. Schneider said. "We're going out, enjoying our vacation, spending some money, keeping our economy going. And we drove all the way from Florida to do that."
The fact that people are still willing to drive to the coast has tourism leaders optimistic about their short term and long term futures.
Steve Richer is the executive director of the Harrison County Tourism Director. He's studied airline reports since the September 11, 2001 hijackings. "Certainly it's very obvious that a lot of people aren't flying," said Richer. "We are very fortunate because we have such a tremendous amount of visitors from the drive in market."
Regional marketing is how the tourism industry went after guests in the days before jet service returned to the Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. With airline usage down, it's how the coast is going after guests again.
According to Casino Magic Biloxi General Manager John Ferrucci, "You just want to be smart with how you spend your money at a time like this."
While America braces for what's expected to be a long war against terrorism, Ferrucci's casino is taking a proactive position. It's moving ahead with a $1.2 million expansion to its slot area, even though that money could cover revenue shortfalls during the crisis. "We'll just continue business as usual," said Ferrucci, "just maybe on a little smaller scale."
Betty Stein is all for business as usual. The Pensacola native is a coast casino regular. In fact, she just spent her 65th birthday here. And she'll be back, no matter what America does to terrorist organizations. "I'll be over here every chance I get," said Stein. "I'm not going to stay at home just because of the terrorist attack and everything, because you can't. You can't just quit living and everything."
Coast tourism leaders are confident that drive in visitors will continue to feel that way, despite the country's impending battle against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist affiliates.
Coast hoteliers could suffer a financial hit if the National Football League moves this year's Super Bowl out of New Orleans. Because of scheduling changes caused by the terrorist hijackings, moving the Super Bowl is a possibility. If New Orleans loses the game, the coast would lose thousands of hotel reservations.