Mississippi Gulf Coast cheering for BCS game

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This is one red tide the Mississippi Gulf Coast is happy to see.

Local merchants say Alabama residents appear to be delighted to be hanging out on the sandy beaches of the coast instead of the narrow old streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter before the Crimson Tide takes on the LSU Tigers for the BCS title on Monday night.

Taryn Sammons, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said ads went out to Alabama last month to persuade fans to stay on the coast at bowl time, and it’s paid off big time.

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“We did all our advertising in Alabama,” said Sammons. “I’d say about 99 percent of the people we’re seeing are from there.”

Mississippi offered a number of incentives, including hotel and restaurant packages and buses to take fans to New Orleans on game day.

New Orleans can’t complain much — many hotels and restaurants are booked up.

The joke making the rounds in the hotels, shops, restaurants and other businesses along the beach is that a rising Crimson Tide raises all their boats.

“This has turned out to be just fantastic,” said Lindy Hornsby of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association. “It’s turning out to be thousands of room nights at a time that would normally be a terribly slow period.”

The location of the coast between Alabama and New Orleans — about an hour from each — makes it a natural for people driving in, Sammons said.

“It’s kind of a halfway point,” she said.

Hard hit, first by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and then the BP oil spill in 2010, tourism is slowly rebounding on the Gulf coast. Officials hope this will be a long-term boost as visitors see the area has rebuilt and the beaches are once again open.

“We’re hoping to get people who have not been here for a while so they can see all we have to offer and come back,” Sammons said.

At Beau Rivage, the largest hotel and casino on the coast, a full-house is expected, with the addition of the BCS crowd and a $1 million poker tournament.

“We see a lot of Alabama red everywhere,” said hotel spokeswoman Mary Spain. “There’s a really nice energy everywhere.”

For people booking reservations through the Hotel and Lodging Association, the package includes two seats on the buses headed to New Orleans on game day. Those with other accommodations can buy tickets for $60 each, Hornsby said.

“They can take their own drinks and snacks (on the ride),” she said. “They can party over and back and have time in the French Quarter as well.”

The buses leave at 11 a.m. Monday and drop riders off in the French Quarter. They will pick them up and take them to the Superdome later in the day, then bring them back to the coast after the game, she said.

“I’m an LSU fan,” Hornsby said. “But a lot of people wearing red are making folks on the coast see black this weekend.”