GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Big things are on the way for tourism in South Mississippi. Coastal Mississippi hosted its annual stakeholder presentation Thursday night at Centennial Plaza in Gulfport.
During the two and a half hour presentation, tourism leaders detailed the past year’s struggles caused by the algal bloom and laid our their plans to boost numbers in 2020.
With water advisories in place along coast beaches throughout the year’s busiest tourism months, tourism leaders say the industry definitely took a hit last year.
“The overall impact was estimated at $110 million...but for the industry, there was an excess of $35 million that we couldn’t generate in our top season, which is summer," explained Coastal Mississippi CEO Milton Segarra. "So certainly it was a big impact, specifically, to our vendors close to the beach.”
Even with a slower season than expected, the numbers continued to go up.
“We had the best year up until May, in the last four years,” said Segarra. “The numbers across the board were going up and up and up in all categories. Obviously, after the water intrusion situation from June, July on was very difficult. But we were able to manage the growth.”
However, despite the challenging summer months, numbers for fiscal year 2019 are on par, and even surpassing in certain categories compared to years past. And, Coastal Mississippi has plans to make 2020 even better.
“The future of our coast in terms of tourism and hospitality is bright,” said Segarra. “Fiscal year 19 was a telling year but we were able to finish very strong. Tonight, we wanted to present to stakeholders and industry members what we have planned for fiscal year 20, what we have planned for marketing, social media, sales, making sure we maximize artificial intelligence opportunities to really increase the visitors coming to us."
Some of the plans Coastal Mississippi is working on include partnerships with different airlines to bring more people into Gulfport’s airport, as well as tourism websites like Trip Advisor.
The big plans Coastal Mississippi is working on for 2020 require everyone to work together, said Segarra, stressing that collaboration with elected officials across the coast, as well as business leaders and residents, is key to bringing more people to South Mississippi.
"Right now, we have in excess of $668 million in different projects. The landscape of our coast will change and we need to make sure we have a plan in place to make sure all of our stakeholders and residents and all the visitors when they come will have a great experience... and that we don’t disrupt the beauty, the uniqueness, the character of our 12 coastal communities.”
The main message from Coastal Mississippi is that they believe the future of tourism here on the coast is bright and will remain so as long as we all stand together.