As a 20-year veteran of the tourism industry, Beth Carriere is pleased that the business sector now sees tourism as an important part of the state’s economic mix. The new executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau is also excited about the move toward a united three-county Coast tourism initiative.
“I’m thrilled to see support and interest from the traditional industry and business sector in the tourism industry now,” she said. “We used to be a fun something. For years we’ve been waving our arms and saying ‘here we are.’ We have no smokestacks and we don’t make widgets. I’m happy the business world understands our value now. We have an opportunity to receive their support and assistance in their lines of expertise.”
She feels some of that enhanced understanding of tourism came about when Coast tourism organizations weren’t functioning following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It awakened a lot of people. Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we lose it,” she added.
As the coastal area continues to recover from Katrina, the recession and the BP oil spill, tourism and business leaders are diligently working to develop a tri-county Mississippi Gulf Coast product that Carriere says is huge and long overdue. “We have a memorandum of understanding with the Hancock County Board of Supervisors for a marketing partnership and hope Jackson County will do the same,” she said. “We are now and always have been the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a tri-county gumbo of activities and attractions.
“We have the Gulf of Mexico and the beach to connect us. Visitors don’t know the three counties; they know the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Now we’re marketing what locals see as jurisdictions as the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
The endeavor is garnering good cooperation and financial resources are being used to market the area as a whole. Those resources are derived from the lodging tax of two and one-fourth percent of visitor-paid rooms; that means no tax from rooms that casino hotels provide free to some gaming guests.
“I think there’s a misconception that we have a lot of money. We don’t have enough money, and unfortunately and unfairly we’re compared to other parts of the country that have far more resources,” she said. “Our revenues are grossly under what theirs are.”
Carriere is exploring ways to raise revenue and cut expenses. One idea is to sell advertising on the CVB’s website. “That’s valuable in the electronic world and an avenue for funding we’re looking into right now. Those who benefit from our functions can help us by buying ad space,” she said.
The Coast CVB is the largest public sector destination marketing organization within the state. Carriere comes to this organization from the Hancock County Tourism Development Board. She has held numerous leadership positions in state, regional and national tourism associations, including past president of the Mississippi Tourism Association. She is president elect of SouthCoast USA, a four-state tourism organization from the Florida Panhandle to South Louisiana.
“I enjoy the fast pace of tourism,” she said. “It moves at the speed of me, and I love the mix of sales, management, creativity and even the political end. It fuels me.”
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