Summer Tourism Season Rolls On Despite Gas Prices

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A couple of key reports seem to indicate summer tourism is better than industry leaders anticipated. Attraction operators of the Ship Island Ferry, the Gulf Islands Water Park, and the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center all say their visitor counts are encouraging. And a hotel program to offset high gas prices has done a lot better than anybody expected.

The school bell rings in a couple of days. Children go back to school. And staff members at the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center can finally relax. Despite fuel costs that curtailed some family getaways, summer visits to the Gulfport children's museum exceeded expectations.

Cindy Minton is with the discovery center, where June numbers jumped by almost 1,400 visitors.

"I think they're starting to look to see what they can do in this state that is a day's drive, maybe a day trip for them, or even coming down to the coast for a long weekend," Minton thought.

Yet, if you surveyed the tourism leaders gathered together at the Beau Rivage for an annual awards luncheon, more than a few would admit their industry did suffer this summer.

"We've certainly seen better Julys," noted IP general manager Jon Lucas.

Lucas says hotel occupancy at the IP is 100 percent. But revenues are soft.

"It's been an okay summer. We're definitely feeling the economic downturn and the gas prices, and the impact of those two factors," he said.

Yet new tourism director Richard Forester says the impact hasn't been devastating. "It's different here," said Forester.

One explanation for that could be the "Come Back To The Coast" campaign. The Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association can point to nearly 500 two night hotel reservations that were made this summer because hotels gave those guests a $50 gas card.

"It's a really good, quick drive vacation. And you can do a lot of things. So I think that helps," Forester said.

It also helped that the maze of activities at Lynn Meadows were open on Mondays this summer. That gave families an additional day to enjoy their summer trips to south Mississippi.

At the Beau Rivage luncheon, the tourism industry honored Chevis Swetman. The bank president won the Billy Creel Excellence in Tourism award for his tireless work promoting events like Cruisin the Coast and Smokin the Sound.