Regional Tourism Leaders Say Coast Is Reemerging

The lines were long at the Beau Rivage on the first day of the Southeastern Tourism Society Conference. Conference leaders say on this trip, they've seen many positive signs for the South Mississippi Tourism Industry.

"We believe the Gulf Coast is coming back. The casinos are helping, and to tell you the truth, tourism is really going to be driving the redevelopment here in this area," said Bill Hardman, President and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society.

Faith in the coast is so strong that a campaign aimed at growing tourism in the area is going to be launched.

"It's called "The Coast is Clear." It's being done through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce for $500,000, and we have been able to parlay an additional $750,000 for a $1.2 million campaign."

"The Gulf Coast tourism industry is a full one-third of the state's tourism industry. We're a $6.5 billion dollar industry. The growth and the revenues coming back are very important for the state," said Craig Ray, Director of Tourism for the Mississippi Development Authority.

Guest speaker Haley Barbour agrees. He told the crowd that's why state lawmakers have passed post-Katrina legislation, such as the law allowing on shore gaming, to help build back the coast's tourism industry.

Conference leaders say despite some media portrayals, the coast is still a marketable tourist destination.

The conference was held in South Mississippi two years ago, and was set to be in North Carolina this year. However, the Southeast Tourism Society decided to return to Biloxi to show its support for helping our tourism industry build back.