The 26-mile sand beach has always been a selling point for Harrison County tourism leaders. Just ask Ron Johnson. The St. Louis native brought his family to the beach for a vacation. He thought the beach was "fantastic, especially for the little ones."
But new research indicates the beach wasn't a main summer draw. The study done by NFO Plog Research said just 1 percent of the coast's summer tourists came here specifically to play in the sand. Another 9 percent said the beach was a secondary reason for their visit.
Misty Velasquez has read the third-quarter report. The tourism commission spokesperson said, "This is a nice beach. But we also have a lot of other beaches really close by."
According to the findings in the 72 page report, 16 percent of the summer visitors brought children with them.
That may be one of the reasons the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center had its best summer ever. Discovery Center Director Betsy Grant said, "We have a lot of folks who come and spend the day with us. I'm not sure that they're staying overnight. But the families like to come here."
The visitor profile found that the big summer draw was casino gambling. Seventy-eight percent of the people surveyed in July, August and September said their primary or secondary reason to come here was to gamble. Twenty-seven percent visited the area to shop. Sixteen percent came to see friends.
Tourism leaders see an upside to the third-quarter findings. "I think the number one reason people come to Mississippi's Gulf Coast is the overall experience," Velasquez said. "And all the elements combined give an experience that is different than any place else."
Statistics about gambling being popular didn't matter to the Johnsons. The picture they took back to St. Louis was of a family friendly Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The Harrison County Tourism Commission is paying $266,000 for this research project. The study will eventually collect three years worth of statistics about coast visitors, so tourism leaders can see if their marketing strategies are working.