By ALEXIS WILLIAMS
Coast tourism leaders are touting improved numbers for 2016, saying that 6.2 million people visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast last year. Their goal of 7 million visitors by 2020 is well within reach and hopefully attainable before then.
“We truly believe that one voice is working,” said Renee Areng, Executive Director of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. Areng notes that 2016 was the first year all three coastal counties, Hancock, Harrison and Jackson, were part of a regional tourism marketing effort. “We have a great team, and we are streamlining the messaging where we are getting the best results.”
Last year leisure and hospitality jobs were also on the upswing, growing to 30,300 jobs. This was an increase of 2,410 jobs since 2012.
“As the hospitality industry grows, so do the jobs,” added Areng. “In 2016, we saw the addition of the Scarlet Pearl, expansion of the Island View and the opening of Margaritaville, among others.”
Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast says that $1.99 billion was spent by visitors in 2016 which is an increase of ten percent from 2015. Large events and festivals, the Mississippi Coast Marathon and the growing gaming industry were all contributors to this boost.
The team at Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast is also looking to the growth of hotel room inventory to help increase visits. Scarlet Pearl Casino’s opening added 300 rooms and Margaritaville Biloxi over 370. The Island View expansion totaled their rooms at 970. At year-end, 14,633 rooms were available on the Coast. It’s the hope of Areng and other leaders that soon hotel rooms will exceed the pre-Katrina number of 16,092.
Tourism leaders hope this summer will lead to the continued growth of visitors with upcoming festivals, beach visitors and Shuckers baseball.