Bowl Games Could Kickoff Coast Tourism Revival

The wacky college football season has produced two games in New Orleans that could spark south Mississippi's tourism recovery.

Nobody expected the University of Georgia to play in the Sugar Bowl. And the odds were against Ohio State earning a berth in the national championship game. Yet both teams will be in the Big Easy. More importantly to the coast, their fans are already booking flights and rooms in south Mississippi.

Having Georgia in the Sugar Bowl means fans will be driving right through the coast.

Ohio State's appearance in the title game means fans will be flying here on south Mississippi's newest airline. At an airport that's trying to expand its wings, timing is everything. College football's national championship is perfect timing for Gulfport Biloxi International Airport.

Bruce Frallic is the airport's executive director.

"We'll have full flights for one thing. And we'll introduce a lot more Buckeyes to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," he said.

Those flights will be on Skybus, an airline that doesn't open its Gulfport ticket counter until Wednesday. Yet its impending service from Columbus, Ohio to Gulfport has already created an unexpected buzz.

"It certainly has worked out great for us," Frallic said.

Columbus is the home of the Ohio State University. And the Buckeyes football team just qualified for the January 7, 2008 title game over in New Orleans. Demand for air service to that game is so strong, Skybus has already added an extra flight to Gulfport on January 5, 2008 and a second flight back to Columbus on January 9, 2008.

"So this is just a real coup for us," Frallic thought.

That game, and a New Year's Day Sugar Bowl contest between Georgia and Hawaii are welcome news to hotels and casinos across the coast.

Wade West is the marketing director at the Island View.

"I tell you what, it's perfect timing," said West.

Based on past Sugar Bowls featuring teams from the east, Georgia's berth should keep Gulfport and Biloxi slot machines ringing right through the New Year.

"With those people driving from Georgia over to the Superdome, we expect a much bigger crowd," he said.

It's not just the two BCS games that will bring visitors to the region. Memphis and Florida Atlantic are playing in the December 21 New Orleans Bowl. Texas Tech fans driving from Lubbock to the Gator Bowl could make a pit stop on the coast. And Bowling Green and Tulsa are in the GMAC Bowl over in Mobile. That game is January 6, 2008.