A Closer Look...with Renee Areng
In advance of the 2017 IITA Summit, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, Renee Areng offered us a sneak peek at what's going on in the region.
62 miles of shoreline. 12 casinos. 19 golf courses. Upscale shopping. And, of course, the best in Southern Hospitality.
That’s why the Mississippi Gulf Coast does $1.6 billion in tourism each year. And that’s why three years ago, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau was created. It is the largest public sector Destination Marketing Organization within the state of Mississippi, and the three counties it serves receive 43 percent of the state’s tourism capital investment.
What’s new on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that inbound tour operators should know about?
The development is amazing. The Island View Casino Resort opened its beach tower and now has almost 1,000 rooms.
The Pascagoula River Audubon Center offers eco boat tours through its 70,000 acres, which keeps the largest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States one of the wildest. Some species there are found nowhere else on the planet.
The Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort has opened a 36-hole miniature golf course, and Margaritaville is a new 400-room property with an arcade facility and water parks.
In addition, a “to-go” ordinance passed, which allows people to carry alcoholic beverages outside bars in certain zones.
There also have been new local restaurants popping up everywhere, such as the Cork & Cleaver Wine Bistro, which can accommodate motorcoaches; and Brackish Seafood Restaurant, which has the best views overlooking Long Beach Harbor and a private room that can seat 100 people.
Our local establishments are really spreading their wings.
What makes it different than other U.S. destinations?
We aren’t just another beach destination for many reasons. We have 26 miles of coastline unobstructed by high rises, and 90 percent of the species found in the Gulf of Mexico nest in the Mississippi Sound, the body of water between the Mississippi mainland and its barrier islands.
There is also so much more to see and experience.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has gaming, including a high-limit salon. The shopping is high-end.
The Blues Trail provides a unique music experience. We work hand-in-hand with Memphis and New Orleans to create that uniquely American blues music opportunity.
And our water recreation opportunities are distinctive. Because the Mississippi Sound doesn’t have surf, it improves the experience for many water sports such as paddle boarding. We also have a variety of water experiences, including rivers and estuaries.
The area also is very walkable with many amenities nearby.
What will attendees have the chance to see/experience during the Summit?
They will get a taste of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The opening event will feature the Maritime Museum and local seafood with the experience showcasing great views to the Back Bay and Sound.
We’ll have site tours to museums, shopping and outdoor activities such as sailing and schooner excursions. There also will be four or five FAM (familiarization) tours and options to visit other parts of the state.
What international markets are of most interest to Mississippi and are most interested in the destination?
Because of the Blues Trail, we have a following in the European market. We’re also popular with Japan for our gaming and golfing. Travelers can play a different course every day for almost three weeks.
We are expanding in the Asian market, particularly China. We’re also starting to focus some on South America.
Our largest number of tourists outside the U.S. are Canadians – typically snowbirds. Our weather is what the rest of the world would consider balmy – even in winter.
How do you support inbound tour operators in marketing and selling the Mississippi Gulf Coast?
We can help with FIT (free independent travelers) or groups. The beach is not typically an attraction to international travelers, so we market all the things we have to offer – so much more to see and do than other beach locations.
We work directly with our international reps, mostly in Europe, and try to make sure we are their first contact. We also reach out to travel writers to promote our unique offerings.
We are open to co-funding for marketing, promotional materials, FAM trips and sales missions.