The Hancock County Tourism Bureau is the voice of the county's attractions, retailers, hotels, rentals, and restaurants. Learn more about this vital tool of the tourist trade.
- by Lisa Monti
The Hancock County Tourism Bureau is the “boots on the ground” for Hancock County, to make sure that word gets out to residents and visitors about all the great things that the county has to offer. As the group boasts, Hancock County is home to some of Mississippi’s greatest treasures!
“Our goal for 2023 is to promote local events throughout Hancock County to our neighboring states so we have tourists come in to enjoy our county,” said Rachel Knight, president of Hancock Tourism board of directors. “It’s very important to have local boots on the ground to get that information out, especially with Amtrak coming. Our goal is to be sure we promote tourism to the neighboring states.”
The return of Amtrak passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, with stops including Bay St. Louis, is expected to be a boon for local businesses and tourism attractions, starting at the Historic Depot Visitor Center.
Knight said Hancock Tourism also has another goal: “to help our municipalities promote their events and really any event in the county.”
And there’s no shortage of events, from Carnival season to the year-end holiday season, covering fun and festivals celebrating food, music, history, and the arts.
Hancock Tourism relies heavily on social media to spread the word about events and activities along with local advertising. “We have over 5,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, and we’re trying to get to 7,500 before the summer so we can make sure everybody is getting the information,” Knight said.
Of course, there’s also the personal touch to tourism provided by Myrna Green, the longtime director of the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau, and her dedicated staff, including Susan Duffy, Debbie Stanford and Tess Ball, who greet visitors at the Visitor Center and Mardi Gras Museum inside the train depot. The tourism theme, “Every trip should start here,” features the Historic Train Depot-Official Visitor Center.
“We have a great team,” Green said. “We do the gift bags for every kind of group who visit, from family reunions to weddings and motor coach tourists as well as individuals.”
The motor coach tours are rebounding from the pandemic. Green said before Covid, there were 65 to 75 coach tours a year, bringing visitors to the county.
The “Play on the Bay” visitor guide is published with support from advertisers to promote Hancock County’s attractions and other tourism assets. The guide, which is filled with information, maps and videos for tourists, also is available online at www.playonthebay.org.
Green said 80 percent of people who visit the Tourism Bureau’s website and Facebook page are looking for festival and event information. “We have so many vacation rentals and second homes, and snowbirds want to schedule their visits around what’s coming up. They love our events,” Green said. “At our Visitor Center we mainly get people who are new to the area and want to see what we have to offer.”
As far as the long list of local attractions, Knight said a recent visit to 100 Men Hall impressed her with its “endless amounts of history, and it is a fantastic music venue to go to and learn.”
Downtown Bay St. Louis’s retail, restaurants and nightspots are favorites of visitors, including those who gather her for girls’ getaway weekends, engagements, weddings and bachelor parties.
Upcoming events include the 15th annual Soup’er Mudfest on Second Saturday on March 11. Green said the event is a joint venture with Tourism Bureau, the Old Town Merchants Association, the potters of Hancock County, and Ruth’s Roots.
With the purchase of a handmade Soup bowl, crafted by various local potters, you get a wristband that’s good for samplings of delicious soups offered by more than 20 participating Old Town merchants. “It’s first come, first served,” Green said. “It’s a very fun day, and the bowls sell out every year.”
Knight said Cruisin’ the Coast, arguably the premier annual event that attracts thousands of visitors and vintage vehicles, just got bigger and better with the return of Waveland as a venue after a decade’s absence. “We’re super excited about that,” she said of getting the city back on the Cruisin’ calendar.
Knight heads the group’s nine-member board of directors who meet once a month. In addition to Knight, members are David Hilbert, vice president; Cami Cornfoot, treasurer/secretary; Kimberly Adam-Boushie; Mark Garcia; Kay Kell; Alan Lagarde; and Paul Harris.
“I am so proud of all the people on the board who volunteer their time for tourism,” Knight said.
The group’s newest event, Taste of Hancock County, debuted last month and was such a hit that it will become its major fundraising event. Held at the Bay St. Louis Community Center, Taste of Hancock County featured local culinary specialties along with silent and live auctions, a raffle and music. The money raised by Taste of Hancock County goes back into the tourism fund. “In the past we were able to apply for grants, but they are no longer available,” she said.
A new live-music event coming to Bay St. Louis is Blues in Da Bay, which will be held May 13 in the Depot District from 11 am to 9 pm. This free event will feature bands playing throughout the day, arts and crafts, raffles and games.
Knight said she is working on some smaller events to tag along with events in the cities and would like to see some new events such as a daytime boat parade at Easter.
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