MAY 05, 2017 5:00 AM

Oh, how Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast has helped

By The Editorial Board

Tourism is picking up momentum across the Coast just in time for summer, according to Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast.

And that’s great news for anyone living here. Because the more people spend money and have fun on the Coast, the more tourism attractions we can build. And the more attractions we can offer, the more people will come. That’s the kind of cycle we like to see unfold.

Visit MGC Executive Director Renee Areng and her staff brought a bunch of good news to back up those assertions on a recent visit to the Sun Herald:

▪  There were 6.2 million visitors in 2016, an 8 percent increase over 2015, and well on the way to the 2020 goal of 7 million visitors.

▪  There were 30,300 leisure and hospitality jobs last year, an increase of 2,410 since 2012. Tourism is the largest private-sector industry on the Coast.

▪  The $1.99 billion spent by visitors last year was a 10 percent increase from 2015.

▪  The Coast spent $81 million on tourism capital improvements.

▪  We have 14,533 hotel rooms, which, added to the 1,500 being planned or built, would put the Coast very near the pre-Katrina level of nearly 16,100 rooms.

▪  There was an 8 percent increase in non-casino hotel revenue.

▪  Hotel revenue was up more than 5 percent in 2016.

But even with all that good news, Visit MGC isn’t satisfied. It sees room for improvement in most every direction.

It has trained more than 600 Coast Champions — people on the front lines of tourism who now are well versed in everything there is to see and do on the Coast. But it wants to train even more. Staffers will train your employees if you have at least 10 who want to become Champions.

There is a One Coast specialty license plate in the works, but it needs your help. So far, 110 people have signed up to get one. To get the plate made, 300 must order one by May 15. Sign up at GulfCoast.org.

Visit MGC wants to help attract a hotel near the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center to bring in conventions that demand a hotel within walking distance of convention facilities.

It also wants to better market sports, such as baseball and basketball tournaments and gymnastics meets, as One Coast rather than three separate counties. It is working with Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association to boost sales of golf packages, which have been in decline.

Visit MGC also is helping attractions gauge their markets so they won’t be closed on the days visitors are here to visit. It wants more people to visit outdoor attractions such as the Sandhill Crane Refuge, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Visit MGC is trying to attract more flights to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and is aiding the effort to bring Amtrak passenger train service back to the Coast.

Finally, it is backing the effort to make Spring Break a successful event, because, Areng said, “Anyone who comes to the Coast falls in love with the Coast.”

We agree. And we’re happy the Coast finally is taking an organized, well-planned and unified approach to attract visitors to the entire region.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/opinion/editorials/article148745784.html#storylink=cpy