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Biloxi block of Cruisin The Coast

Cruisin’ the Coast to rev up economy

By LISA MONTI

In its 23rd year, Cruisin’ the Coast is a tourism juggernaut that reliably revs up the coast economy during what used to be a slow season.

This year’s classic car party, which celebrates vehicles 1989 and older, is expected to be another record breaker when Cruisin’ rolls across the three coastal counties Oct. 6-13

Car owners had signed up 7,325 vehicles, 160 more than last year, by the time early registration closed out in August. All told, a record 8,444 vehicles were registered in 2018, and organizers have good reason to believe that number will be topped this year.

Craig Grisoli, Cruisin’s registration director, said, “Locals are anxious to see the event do well because it does mean a lot to the economy and it’s just a fun event. We have 650 volunteers from 11 local clubs that make this happen.”

Cruisin’ crowds give restaurants, shops and hotels plenty to celebrate over the eight-day schedule. The latest economic impact study, conducted in 2016, showed that Cruisin’ generated $28.6 million for Mississippi, including $26.1 million on the Coast. The totals that year increased by 35 percent over 2011.

Those kinds of numbers are especially encouraging to the Coast’s tourism industry after toxic algae force the closure all of Mississippi’s beaches to swimming during prime summer months.

“It has been a tough July and August to the prior year per many retailers, beach vendors and restaurants due to the impact of the algae,” said Janice Guido, owner of Bay Life Gifts in Bay St. Louis. “We are hopeful the last quarter brings more business with more advertising of all the festivals and cooler weather to enjoy.”

Nikki Moon owns the Bay Town Inn on the Bay St. Louis beachfront and is president of Coastal Mississippi’s board of commissioners, which oversees the promotion of the three coast counties as a regional tourism and convention destination. She said cruisers can find plenty of other options beyond the beaches.

“From a coastal position, Cruisin’ gives us the opportunity to tell everyone that the coast is doing great.  Yes, our waters are still recovering, but the beaches are still beautiful, our seafood the tastiest of anywhere, and the people welcoming as always.  There are so many things to do here aside from swimming in the Gulf, that our cruisers will still find it to be the best place in the U.S. to have an event such as this.”

Hotel occupancy for Cruisin’ week since 2013 was in the 70 percent range except for 2017, when Hurricane Nate rained on its parade. Last year occupancy was 77.4 percent.

“It’s always great for business,” said Linda Hornsby, Executive Director

of the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association. “It’s just a wonderful event, we should have one a month.”

Woody Bailey, Cruisin’s executive director, said organizers are constantly looking for ways to make the massive event with venues from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula work better. “We definitely don’t want people saying it’s too crowded. We monitor it all the time to see the impact we have on the economy and traffic and everything else,” he said.

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About Lisa Monti