Tourism Leaders Hear Ad Campaign Proposals

Tourists fill hotel rooms. They use convention facilities. They gamble at casinos. They eat at restaurants. In other words, they stimulate the coast economy. And that creates more jobs.  That's why tourism leaders think the coast is far enough along in its recovery to put out the welcome mat again.

Harrison County Tourism Commission George Watson chaired a presentation where five advertising groups presented marketing ideas to his board.

"We have to rebuild. We must rebuild where we are and who we are all over again," Watson said.

Part of the rebuilding Watson talked about took place in the convention center's new kitchen area. Someday soon, the kitchen will serve convention delegates who book trips to the coast.

Enticing people to come down here again is the responsibility of advertising executives. Nancy Smith does Beau Rivage's marketing. Her New Jersey agency would like Harrison County's account as well.

"People are rooting for you. That's the best part," she told commissioners.

Smith was with one of the five east coast ad agencies who would like the chance to use their marketing techniques and sell Harrison County to the world. The others were from Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland.

"We see a destination that has a chance to repackage itself, reposition itself," said Smith.

Before the storm, tourism leaders had the Mississippi Gulf Coast on a roll. Almost two million people a year were vacationing down here.

"We have to sell ourselves again to the public," commissioner Watson said.

The Maryland ad group emphasized it could get those people to come back. Bruce Iannatuono heads up that agency.

"We're going to see this coast rise and take over the entire south," he said.  "It's a great infectious feeling that when you come down here, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the people in it are ready to get back to work and do a good job."

Tom Becker believes that's true. The Biloxi charter boat captain was invited to hear the five advertising presentations.

"I've got groups calling that I didn't have last year," Becker said. "They've heard the rooms are open and they want to come back."

Who gets the Harrison County contract to show the world the coast is building back could be the most important decision this board ever makes.

"We have to retell the nation this is the Mississippi Gulf Coast," commissioner Watson said. "We are different. And we are back. And we are better."