Harrison County Tourism Moves Its Call Center To Missouri - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Harrison County Tourism Moves Its Call Center To Missouri

The toll free number on the Harrison County Tourism Commission's web page connects you to a USA-800 operator near Kansas City Missouri.

The operator said his knowledge of South Mississippi was limited to the following statement. "The gulf coast region hugs the Gulf of Mexico. It is about an hour's drive from New Orleans. And an hour's drive west of Mobile, Alabama. It includes Biloxia, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Long Beach and the Bay of St. Louis, Waveland. That's about it pretty much."

The incorrect Biloxi pronunciation came up a second time, when the operator was asked about the coast casinos. "There is Boomtown in Biloxia, there's the Imperial Palace casino, Isle of Capri casino. And that's about it," he said.

Notice that he only mentioned three casinos and then said, "that's about it." As you know, Biloxi has nine casinos. And the coast has 12.

The Missouri operator was then asked how long it would take to get from one of Biloxi's casinos to Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport. And the operator said, "I wouldn't know that information."

In the three minute conversation, the Missouri operator didn't hide the fact that he's never been to the coast. "I just take in the information," he said. "We're just a call center."

Harrison County Tourism director Steve Richer heard a tape of the conversation. "Obviously as you have pointed out in this one case," Richer said, "training is an important part of what we do. And it takes awhile for everyone to get acquainted."

USA-800 handles tourism inquiries for 18 agencies around the country. So later this month, Harrison County tourism leaders will go to Missouri for a training seminar with the operators.

The tourism commission moved its call center near Kansas City to save money. According to the contract, USA-800 is also providing the coast daily phone call reports. That's something the coast didn't get before.

Richer said some of that data has already provided some encouraging news. People from Chicago and New York have topped the list of travelers calling in for coast information. Which means some of their marketing efforts are paying off. "We're pretty optimistic that this is going to grow the response," he said. "I think there are some very simple corrective training things that could make this even more effective than it is already."

The Missouri operator gave WLOX News an 800 number to call to get specific questions answered. He said the number was to the Mississippi Division of Tourism.

When a reporter called that number, it was answered by an operator at First American in Ocean Springs.

Ironically, that's the same company Harrison County was using, until it cut costs and moved its tourism inquiry line to Kansas City.

First American executive Gene Smith said his company didn't bid on the Harrison County tourism contract because it didn't have the on line data base access that the county wanted. And it wouldn't cut its costs in half like he said the county requested.

Smith said First American would love to have Harrison County's business back.

by Brad Kessie

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