Attractions owners map out a trail that tourists can easily follow

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Louis Skrmetta runs Ship Island Excursions.  And on Saturday, his ferry boats carried nearly 1,200 sunbathers out to the barrier island.  That's all the National Park Service will allow the excursion provider to carry on any given day.

Skrmetta is also the head of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attractions Association.  And he's looking for ways to share his company's summer success with other non-gaming tourist spots.

On Monday, Skrmetta played delivery man.  He drove to participating businesses in Jackson County and dropped off a new brochure that emphasizes one crucial point.  If you can't find something to do in south Mississippi, you're just not trying.

The brochure is a map that's now available at 34 non-gaming attractions around south Mississippi.  It directs tourists to family vacation spots along the coast.

Charter boat fishing docks are listed in printout.  That's where we found a group from Lake Charles, Louisiana, finishing up a four hour voyage into the Mississippi Sound.  Lisa Seep said the trip "was awesome.  Unbelievable."

That's the message Skrmetta hopes to share with the rest of the world through an $8,000 investment by his group and the Mississippi Development Authority.  "We've got all these wonderful natural resources here that you and I know about, we enjoy it, the locals enjoy it, but the tourists don't know about it," he said.

Skrmetta's solution is in the box he was delivering.  "I think you're going to love the colors.  I think you're going to love the map itself," he told one of his association's members.

Skrmetta became president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attractions Association in February.  And one of his first priorities was to convince its members to print 75,000 maps.  Each one showcases the non-gaming fun tourists can have during their vacations.

The last time a map was printed was in 2003.  The new maps were necessary, Skrmetta said to "let people know what we have.  When they come here, they're amazed.  And if they have a guide, a map that will show them these places, they're going to take advantage of it, hopefully they're going to stay awhile."

David Harris is one of the attractions association's newest members.  He owns the Harbor Landing at the Ocean Springs Harbor.  "It's not just our business that we're promoting.  It's the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, or south Mississippi for that matter," said Harris.

When 2009 started, just 16 tourist spots belonged to the attractions association.  So, Skrmetta contacted restaurants, art galleries and charter boat captains and got them to join the group.  Consequently, nearly three dozen businesses, plus a variety of parks, and scenic side trips are featured in this map.

Bobby Simmons is a charter boat captain.  The maps could become the perfect lure for his operation.  "That's what it's all about, giving people something to do and give them a reason to come to Biloxi," said Simmons.

Tourist attractions in the three coastal counties and Stone County are listed in the brochure.  It welcomes people to the Mississippi coast, a place with "ethnic richness, history, charming communities, and outstanding eco-tourism."

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