Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism Inching Toward RecoveryBy Rhonda Miller | Published 09 Sep 2011 09:45am |
Gulf Coast businesses were hoping 2011 would be the season tourism bounced back. But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, it’s been more of a slow crawl.
Hotel and restaurant tax revenues on the Gulf Coast were up for the past year. Officials say the increase was about five percent.
Mary Beth Wilkerson is director of tourism for the Mississippi Development Authority.
"We don’t have solid numbers yet for July- August, for our summer season. But I think we certainly held steady throughout the state," Wilkerson said. "Definitely not back to our pre-Katrina levels."
Before Hurricane Katrina, about eight million visitors a year came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Since then, the slow economy and the BP oil spoil have reduced that number to five million visitors this year.
Linda Hornsby, executive director of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, said oil spill workers helped fill hotel rooms last year. This year, hotel occupancy is down 10 percent.
"August will definitely not bump that figure up any," Hornsby said. "And so year-end, we'll end lower than that , because we’ve got a lot of lean months coming up."
Hornsby said even though hotel occupancy on the coast is down, she thinks the numbers are up in terms of true tourists.
"Because last year we lost them, they went elsewhere.," Hornsby said. " And It takes a lot of money, a lot of effort to bring to bring them back. So whenever they go someplace else, sometimes we’re no longer on their radar."
Some of the tourists may be at beaches in Alabama and Florida, which are reporting big jumps in tourism this season.
"The Mississippi Gulf Coast will never die. It will always thrive. I’ve been here a week. Sunning, hangin’ with friends." That’s Jennifer Shackelford. She used to live on the Gulf Coast. She moved to Ohio. Now she’s on the beach in Biloxi for her vacation.
"Even though we may not all be related, we’re a community. We all stick together, no matter what," Shackelford said. "People have a vested interest here. When you’re born and raised here, your heart never leaves."
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