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Mississippi travelers often stay in state

Travel agents busy with winter getaways

Winter travel is up, and while many “snowbirds” are flocking to the state, plenty of Mississippians are hitting the road, too.

“Mississippi’s mild climate is an asset during the winter months,” said Allison Beasley, director of the Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau. “In the last 30 days, we’ve definitely

seen an increase in inquiries from states like Wisconsin. Snow on the ground makes them pretty vulnerable to our marketing efforts. They may not pack their bags immediately, but

balmy Mississippi sounds pretty good to them right now.”

Winter travelers on the move

According to the Travel Industry Association of America’s (TIA), travelers have more positive perceptions regarding the affordability of travel and a brighter outlook on their

personal finances this quarter than they did three months ago. They also have more time available for pleasure travel.

“The increase in travelers’ perceptions regarding the affordability of travel is two-fold,” said William S. Norman, president and CEO of TIA. “The high cost of gas this summer was

a major concern for travelers. However, prices have decreased and are now somewhat stable. In addition, they’re feeling better overall about their own personal financial situation,

so the cost of travel is less of an issue.”

Trends show that Baby Boomers are traveling more often. Younger travelers showed the sharpest decline in taking pleasure trips. Winter travelers typically take shorter trips and

spend less money.

The lure of Mississippi

During the winter months, Mississippi attracts “snowbirds” galore, said Patrick Bell, marketing director for the Hattiesburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We see a great number of golfers during the months of January through March visiting our area to play the courses,” Bell said. “This includes visitors from Missouri, Illinois,

Ohio, Minnesota and even Canada.”

In metro Jackson, two major winter month events draw thousands to Mississippi: the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, said

Dee Gardner, communications coordinator for the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Additionally, the Jackson CVB facilitates numerous wintertime meetings and conventions,” Gardner said.

When fellow Mississippians take time off in the winter, they often travel in state, many times “to go hunting,” said Pascagoula Mayor Joe Cole.

“Those who hunt are obviously interested in time off during deer hunting season,” he said. “Others, though, take off to go to other areas of the country to enjoy winter weather

there. For example, some go elk/deer hunting in Colorado. Others try their hand at snow skiing. Then there are those who follow football and follow their teams to the

championships and bowls.”

Snow bunnies and sun seekers

Sara Burrow, owner of Travel Plus, a pilgrimage tour company in Jackson, said Mississippians that venture outside the state are either looking for snow or sun.

“All of the ski vacation packages were really popular this year and were booked a lot by people in this area, also the Caribbean cruises and Hawaii, with Cancun, Mexico, getting

lots of travelers, too,” she said. “Cancun is really hot this time of year since you can take a flight out of New Orleans and be there in about 45 minutes, spend three or four nights at a

five star hotel on the beach and have wonderful, inexpensive meals — all for less than you would spend on a weekend in New Orleans.”

All-inclusive resorts, like “Sandals” in Jamaica, are popular destinations in the wintertime, said Burrow.

“Once you pay for the package, everything is included, even drinks on the beach,” she said.

Office impact

Most office managers in Mississippi aren’t overwhelmed with employee requests for time off. When a leave is requested, it’s often for an extended weekend.

“Mississippians are traveling to other parts of the state for winter getaways,” she said. “Climate may very well be a factor, but I think the more evident reason is that people are just

taking shorter trips. Over 80% of today’s travel is by private automobile, and I think it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of our state’s market is a drive market, and that

includes our out-of-state visitors as well.”

Because Ingalls Shipyard closes for two weeks surrounding Christmas, many area residents take winter vacations then, and generally wait until the summer before taking additional

time off, said Cole.

“Summer vacations will always be more popular because kids are out of school and working parents have lots of flexibility over the course of the three months to plan and schedule

time off,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.


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