"We get tourists from all over the world visiting our welcome center," said Bobbie Tate, between passing out cups of hot jambalaya to hungry visitors.
Tate is supervisor at the Hancock County Welcome Center. During a busy year, the center will host more than a half million visitors.
"I-110, you take a right. It takes you to Biloxi, yes ma'am," said a welcome center clerk, as she pointed directions on a Mississippi map.
Like the sign says, a visit to Mississippi is "like coming home."
Pat Alley, a Florida visitor, couldn't agree more.
"It's beautiful. It's green. It's beautiful. We have good friends that are from Mississippi, so we've learned a lot about it. And we like the food," she said.
"Would you like some jambalaya?" Tate asked another visitor.
Tourists found themselves the VIPs, in the midst of a celebration. Their reasons for visiting the Magnolia State are as varied as the car tags in the parking lot.
"A lot of people are coming here to visit our casinos. The Delta. We have a lot of people visiting the Delta because of the blues," said Tate.
The Wyatts from Arizona were passing through on the way to Florida. But they did plan on picking up some Mississippi souvenirs.
"I have a six-year-old daughter back in Arizona. She just learned 'Mississippi.' And I had to take a picture of the sign and I have to buy several things that say Mississippi on it because she knows how to spell it now," said Kathy Wyatt.
Statistics showing the impact of tourism in Mississippi are just as sweet as a magnolia blossom. Tourism provides 103,000 direct and indirect jobs. There were nearly 21 million visitors to the state last year. And they provided an economic impact of nearly $6 billion.
Once visitors discover Mississippi, they're likely to return. Like Preston and Delores Reynolds from Utah.
"Just the friendly people, and see the new things that are happening. That's what we come for," said Preston Reynolds.
His wife, Delores, echoed the feelings.
"They are so friendly, and so nice. It's unreal. This is an unreal place to be. I'm happy to be here. It's great."
Along with visitors from the United States, tourists from many foreign countries also visit Mississippi.
The country providing the most visitors to our state last year was Canada. More than 20,000 Canadians visited Mississippi. Canada was followed by England, Germany and Mexico.