A dozen years after Hurricane Katrina and seven years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is not only back on its feet, but thriving. With exciting developments in the pipeline and a host of new options in the way of dining, entertainment and outdoor activities, groups have more reason than ever to meet in a resilient destination that couldn’t stay down for long.
“There is a lot happening throughout the region and there’s no sign of things slowing down anytime soon,” said Janice Jefferson, director of sales for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, whose territory includes the communities of Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Ocean Springs. “We’re so excited about it, especially since it’s bringing us back to where we were before Katrina. Groups will find diverse and flexible meeting spaces, plus a lot to do during free time.”
Along with 26 miles of white-sand beaches, deluxe casino resorts, historic venues, outdoor sports, shopping and a host of other attributes, the Gulf Coast offers affordability and convenience, according to Jefferson.
“We’re easy to navigate and we’re very budget-friendly,” she said. “That’s important as everyone is looking at the bottom line these days. We’re especially seeing an increase in Southeast regional events, but some national events as well. Sports-related events are growing noticeably, too.”
For planners looking for optimal value and flexibility, midweek dates are best throughout the year. With summer a busy time for leisure travel along the Gulf, January through April and September through November are especially favorable periods for group business, Jefferson said.
With everything from large casino resorts to intimate boutique hotels and historic inns, the Gulf Coast offers variety for groups of all sizes. Biloxi has the greatest concentration of meetings hotels as well as the region’s largest meeting facility, the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi. The center has 410,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space and accommodates catered events for up to 6,000 attendees.
Group-friendly casino resort properties include the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, IP Casino Resort Spa, Palace Casino Resort, Margaritaville Resort Biloxi, Harrah’s’ Gulf Coast Casino Hotel & Spa, Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel, and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, all in Biloxi, and the Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast in Bay St. Louis. Non-gaming properties include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Biloxi, South Beach Biloxi Hotel & Suites and the newly opened Hyatt Place Biloxi. In Gulfport, the 3,000-square-foot Gulf Coast Event Center recently opened at the Best Western Seaway Inn.
More meetings infrastructure is on the way. Last year the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation announced plans for the development of a Foxwoods-branded casino resort to be located in the Back Bay area of Biloxi with a possible opening in 2019. The $265 million property is to include a 500-room hotel with 71,000 square feet of meeting space plus multiple dining outlets, a full-service spa and outdoor entertainment choices.
Developers of the Margaritaville Resort Biloxi are seeking approval for a massive expansion that would add two hotels, additional convention space, restaurants and a huge Ferris wheel.
Construction is currently underway on the conversion of the former Santa Maria retirement home in downtown Biloxi into a 154-room, all-suite hotel named the Watermark that is expected to open next year.
New boutique properties are also being added to the area, including The Roost, which recently opened in Ocean Springs in a historic building close to downtown and the beach. In Pass Christian, the 11-room Hotel Whiskey, which includes a two-story lounge and steakhouse, opened last year, the first new property for the town in 90 years.
Arts and History
With roots going back to the 17th century when French colonists first settled the region, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is rich in activities and off-site venues celebrating the region’s Southern heritage, arts scene and more.