BILOXI — Stephen B. Richer serves as executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. He recently talked to the Mississippi Business Journal about his job and the booming Gulf Coast economy.
Mississippi Business Journal: What do you consider the highlight of 1998 for promotion of tourism on the Mississippi Gulf Coast?
Stephen B. Richer: When it is all said and done, getting mentioned on national television, the Today Show, on Dec. 29 as the hottest new travel destination in the country was the highlight of the year. The show was an interview with the executive director of “Fodor’s Travel Guide,” and the only hot, new emerging travel destination discussed and put on the screen was Biloxi. So getting that kind of national publicity sort of topped off a wonderful year.
In the future, we will be recognized as the tourism destination that has come the farthest the fastest in this century.
MBJ: What do you expect to be the highlight of 1999?
SR: I think many different activities will combine to dramatically increase our global visibility in a lot of different market segments. We have so many things going for us in 1999 that it would be hard for it not to work. We have the expansion of our hotel inventory, the addition of Beau Rivage, the Nike Golf Tournament, and several special events in different market segments. The Expo for Black Women, which has drawn 70,000 people when held in Chicago, is scheduled for August. The Southern Regional Meeting of the NAACP will be held in March, and National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners will have a convention here in April.
The Southern Gaming Summit and Travel Agent Gaming Expo will also be held here next year.
That’s just a sample of the many different times next year that Coast will have exposure to people who can bring us more business.
That is going to be the highlight of 1999, having free national and international publicity for the Coast.
And I’m sure there will also be additional announcements of major retail attractions and hotel developments.
MBJ: What is the key to the Coast continuing the momentum towards reaching resort destination status?
SR: The key is simply continuing to expose the Coast to people who can help increase visits from as many market segments as possible, such as the trade shows, family offerings, golf, and the historic and cultural resources. All of those things are happening with great success. We’re clicking on all cylinders.
MBJ: Transportation is a big issue with tourism. What would you like to see happen regarding improvements to air transportation in 1999?
SR: Obviously we are looking for additional air service. As the number of rooms increases, the opportunity for additional air service follows. There are lot of people working on this in both the public and private sector. We are very pleased with the new air service we’ve gotten in the past couple of years.
MBJ: What else is in the works to promote the Coast as a tourism destination?
SR: Enthusiasm and excitement are permeating the Coast. A magazine that is placed in hotels is coming into the Coast from New Orleans. They are going to do one book that includes both the Coast and New Orleans together. It is exciting to see these two areas marketed together. It is going to bring more people into our region, and is a dramatic indication to the public that this is one great destination. When you get that kind of synergy going, it really works well. Then wrap the whole year in the tricentennial celebration on top of that. It is all pretty positive.