While Mississippi — like many other states — experienced a slow in tourism as one of the many impacts of COVID-19, the tri-county area of Coastal Mississippi has seen successes and growth in the past year. It’s one of the highest-performing destinations in the nation in 2020.
While nationally, room demand was down 35% between December 2020 and February 2021, Coastal Mississippi only saw a decrease of 15.5%. Additionally, Coastal Mississippi’s occupancy only decreased by 9.9%, compared to the national average decrease of 33.3.
We recently spoke with Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi, about the region’s robust tourism sector and what comes next as the region heals from the pandemic’s effects.
What might people be surprised to learn about the Coastal Mississippi area?
Segarra: As travelers seek to discover new experiences, cultures, lifestyles, cuisine and places, regularly using terms such as “hidden gem,” “undiscovered,” and “unexpected,” Coastal Mississippi — The Secret Coast is perfectly poised to surprise and delight as a region that offers all the relaxation, adventure, space to roam, and variety that travelers want without the overexposure that they don’t.
The Secret Coast’s temperate climate, along with its astounding natural beauty and rich, unique culture, makes for the perfect year-round destination. There is an incredible amount to do, see and experience across Coastal Mississippi’s 12 beautiful coastal communities: from outdoor activities, such as kayaking, boating, fishing and hiking, to a wide variety of attractions, museums, festivals, world-class gaming and championship golf courses. When it comes to food, this is the place to be! From quaint coastal seafood spots to fine dining, we’ve got it all. In short, Coastal Mississippi checks all the boxes: great food, great weather, great prices, great people, and a great way of life.
How has the region’s tourism sector fared since the start of the pandemic?
Segarra: Tourism is the lifeblood of Mississippi’s tri-county coastal region. While the impact of COVID-19 has inarguably been indelible, Coastal Mississippi has nonetheless seen successes and growth in the past year. Mississippi was the top travel spending market in the U.S. in 2020, and Coastal Mississippi accounts for one-third of the state’s tourism employees, expenditures and taxes. This places Coastal Mississippi as one of the highest performing destinations in the nation last year.
Thanks to state leadership and unwavering dedication displayed by the Coastal Delegation, Coastal Mississippi was awarded $3.4 million from the Tourism Recovery Fund, providing the tools and resources needed to drive visitor demand and fuel recovery for the community. Additionally, Coastal Mississippi will be receiving a $2 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance Grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. These valuable resources will help support and further the strategic redevelopment and revitalization of the region in response to the damaging impacts left by the coronavirus pandemic. With continued prioritization of the health and safety of the tourism and hospitality industry, Coastal Mississippi is confident that this grant will provide a strong return on investment, leading to an increase in visitors and economic activity along The Secret Coast.
In collaboration with community leaders, industry professionals, health care partners and research initiatives, Coastal Mississippi created the Coastal Mississippi Recovery Plan to continue the momentum built prior to COVID-19 and ensure a strong economic future. This plan is based on the following framework: Consumer sentiment and intent to travel; The readiness of the destination for tourism; Input from partners and stakeholders, and Industry and competitive analysis.
Are visitors starting to return for vacations and/or conferences and events?
Segarra: Coastal Mississippi is perfectly poised to welcome visitors to a destination with an abundance of safe, enjoyable adventures, small coastal communities offering unique experiences, plenty of space to roam, and Southern hospitality at its finest. In fact, our research shows that intent to visit Coastal Mississippi ranks higher than Pensacola, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles over the next 18 months.
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.