Coast casinos and tourism officials put a lot of energy and resources into attracting and playing host to conventions, which fill up hotel rooms and restaurants and help plump up the bottom line especially during the off season.
Crystal Johnson, director of sales at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, said convention business booked through the CVB “ is holding steady from prior years and tentative business for future years is up year-to-date this fiscal year over past fiscal year. Actual numbers are 171 groups representing over 42,000 delegates and an over $31 million estimated economic impact,” she said.
Mike Davis, director of sales at Beau Rivage in Biloxi, said the resort hosts about 500 to 600 meetings and conventions each year, bringing in up to 100,000 people annually. “Each year is getting better. We had 600 meetings and conventions last year and that was one of the strongest since 2008 when we were still in recovery mode from Katrina.”
Beau Rivage has the most meeting space outside of convention centers in Mississippi, Davis said. That includes 50,000 square feet of flexible space for events like banquets and trade shows.
Summertime traditionally is convention time for such large groups as the Mississippi Municipal League and the Mississippi Association of Supervisors. “They use conventions as a family vacation,” Davis said.
”Ideally we are looking to grow the market with Sunday through Thursday, midweek business. We’re not pulling in the numbers we feel this market can handle,” he said.
New casinos and amenities in the last 18 months have helped make the market more attractive, Davis said. “The Hard Rock has added rooms, the Isle was sold to Golden Nugget, there’s a new property coming to D’Iberville. All the additions and the marketing help us market the Gulf Coast,” he said.
IP Casino Resort Spa hosts between 275 and 350 conventions and meetings annually, bringing in 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. Most business comes from Mississippi and the other states in the Southeast region.
Leslie Barfield, Director of Hotel Sales, said IP’s convention numbers are about the same as the previous two years but they are starting to see an upswing again. “The average group rate has decreased slightly over the years due to the economy, and the competition is fierce, but we always enjoy a little healthy competition. It keeps us on our toes,” she said.
IP officials consider conventions a top priority. “They are very important all year long, and even more so when it is not during the peak season summer months filled with summer vacationers,” Barfield said. Particularly important is the repeat business. Said Barfield, “We really treasure and appreciate our repeat conventions.”
Barfield said the recent improvements in the Coast casino market are welcome. “We are excited about the growth in this area, and it means more people are marketing for Biloxi. There is enough convention business out there for all of us. As long as we continue to get out there and look for new business so we can grow the total market – and deliver great service and an excellent experience, we can all do well in this business.”
Barfield said the future looks good for the convention business. “It feels better, like people are starting to breath again after the economic crunch of the past several years. Government budgets are still pretty tight, but corporate business seems to be growing again. Groups are spending more money on feeding their attendees during conventions too.”
Bill Holmes, executive director of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center, said, “The meeting and convention market increased significantly this year. For the first time we were booked in the facility every day, Sunday through Saturday, for the entire month of June.” Food service alone was more than $750,000 for that month, Holmes said.
For the 2014 fiscal year, the convention center hosted 119 meetings, conventions and trade shows. Among the recent major events was the Beth Moore’s Living Proof Ministries which attracted 9,000 people, about 70 percent of whom came from outside the region. Dance groups from the Atlanta and Florida markets brought in 59,000 visitors. A Baptist group from Houston bought in 1,400 participants on 39 buses. “They rebooked for the next two years,” Holmes said. “2015 is looking good,” he said. “Conventions and meetings I know are going to be the future of this facility and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
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