biloxi — A raft of national articles touting the attractions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast plus a Harrison County Tourism Commission cooperative marketing venture with Pizza Hut announced April 27 are expected to reap significant dividends promoting the Coast as a tourism destination.
“We are getting more and more positive visibility for the Coast,” said Stephen Richer, executive director, Harrison County Tourism Commission. “This place is taking off more than people would have anticipated, and faster than people would have speculated. In the past month or two articles about the Coast have appeared in Travel & Leisure, Coastal Living, In Flight, Jax Fax Travel Marketing and other magazines. We`re really optimistic with this kind of national publicity.”
The cooperative agreement with Pizza Hut is expected to reach more than five million customers at 500 Pizza Hut restaurants. Prizes awarding trips to the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be awarded in 17 markets in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.
Richer said the Coast is already seeing a favorable trend as gaming revenues continue to climb. The Coast also is expected to receive more national publicity with the opening of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library May 30 at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Shrine.
Also, the first children`s museum in the state of Mississippi will open May 16 in Gulfport. The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport has attractions that include five tree houses for children to explore.
The Coast tourism season began at Easter, and kicks into high gear beginning on Memorial Day. This year there are thousands of new hotel rooms on the Coast at Imperial Palace Hotel, Casino Magic in Biloxi, and the Grand Casino Bayview Hotel in Biloxi.
“Our hopes are very high that we are going to have a good tourism season,” said Linda Hornsby, executive director of the Gulf Coast Hotel/Motel Association. “As far as the expected number of visitors, we feel it will be increased because of the room inventory increase. We have literally thousands more rooms this year than last year. We are anxious to see if visitorship will increase to the same degree as room inventory has increased.”
Average occupancy in 1997 was 69%, a one point increase over 1996. The average daily rate decreased $3 to an average of $57 per night. Hornsby said that is an affordable rate for families, corporate visitors and golfers. Some rates being advertised are considerably lower than a year ago, but average rates are expected to remain steady.
Although new hotels are popular with some visitors, Hornsby said there are also people who come every year and are very loyal to the properties they have enjoyed staying at in the past.
The Coast is increasingly focusing on gearing towards package deals as a way of attracting more visitors. Hornsby said hotels are being strongly encouraged to develop packages around golf, charter fishing, events and festivals. While getting a good value for their vacation dollars is one incentive for purchasing package tours, Hornsby said visitors also like the idea of having a trip itinerary with lots of activities to fill the vacation.
Golf packages to the Gulf Coast were affected this past winter by El Ni