VisitHattiesburg working with state legislature to help tourism industry recover from pandemic

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - COVID-19 impacted several sectors including the tourism industry.

Tourism was one of the industries that were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials with VisitHattiesburg.

“Since the pandemic began, Mississippi lost more than $2.6 billion in visitor spending,” said VisitHattiesburg Executive Director & CEO, Marlo Dorsey. “So, if we just put that in perspective... significant, sharp declines.”

Because of the impact the industry took, VisitHattiesburg worked with the state legislature a few months into the pandemic to create the Mississippi Tourism Recovery Fund.

“In the first round of funding, which created the Mississippi Tourism Recovery Fund, we had $13.5 million and that money could only be spent in about a six-month time period,” Dorsey said.

Now, almost two years into the pandemic, the organization is working with state leaders again to continue repairing the tourism industry.

The Mississippi House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 453. It reauthorizes the Mississippi Tourism Recovery Fund to allocate more dollars to the tourism industry.

“So, when we look at the long-term recovery of tourism, our request with the legislature this year is to allocate $52 million versus the $13.5 million that we did receive the first time because it’s for many more years and not just a few months,” Dorsey said.

VisitHattiesburg says the funds can be used to help bring visitors to the State of Mississippi in order to help the industry recover.

“We know that these dollars if they’re invested wisely, in showing how people can safely travel to our destinations what we have to offer in our destinations to attract visitors to come in and infuse new dollars into our economies, frequent our small businesses, our main streets, our hotels, our tourism attractions and also our restaurants,” Dorsey said.

Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn recently released a statement about HB 453, saying in part:

Tourism is cash-in-hand economic development delivered immediately by visitor spending. These programs will strengthen our communities and local economies while adding hundreds of millions in generated tax revenue to local governments and the state’s general fund from increased visitor spending.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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