by Andrea Doyle | December 01, 2012
Beau Rivage offers 50,000 square feet of meeting space
The Mississippi Gulf Coast boasts all the amenities of a first-tier city at a fraction of the cost, according to Beth Carriere, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We probably offer more than Las Vegas does. I call it casino gaming with a splash," Carriere says. "Because of today's economic climate, it is difficult for corporate as well as government meeting planners to find a location that is attractive to attendees and will hold up to the scrutiny many of today's meetings undergo. We're a destination that planners can be confident is top quality and will not receive criticism for appearing to be lavish."

Carriere understands the demands of the meeting planning profession as she worked for Merrill Lynch Life Agency for years, and planning meetings was a significant part of her job.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is known for its local seafood; championship golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Fazio; resort casinos; and an array of water-sports. The culture is truly unique, as Spanish moss, live oaks, and a Savannah feel combine with 11 casinos offering 24-hour gaming and world-class entertainment, as well as a beach community.

Add to the mix new facilities that were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. There are approximately 13,000 hotel rooms in the area as well as the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center that offers more than 400,000 square feet of meeting space, the Beau Rivage that offers 50,000 square feet for meetings, and the IP Casino Resort Spa with more than 65,000 square feet.

Carriere adds that the CVB offers planners "one-stop shopping." This includes assistance with site and accommodation selection, event promotion, special event and theme party planning, and complimentary on-site registration services and name badges.

"Add to the already excellent value we offer several monetary incentives the CVB and state are offering, and there is no better time to bring a meeting or incentive to the area," adds Carriere.

Meeting planners report that another advantage to meeting in the Mississippi Gulf Coast is ease of access. The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport completed a $56 million expansion in February of 2008. Airlines such as United, Delta, Northwest, and U.S. Airways offer direct service.

This is an area that knows how to throw a festival. One of the newest is the Bridgefest, a yearly celebration commemorating the opening of a vital new bridge that connects Bay St. Louis with the rest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The new bridge replaces the one devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Another festival that is extremely popular is Cruisin' the Coast, a classic car festival in October.

Carriere says meeting professionals are impressed with the variety of off-site events that can be held in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. From a huge bonfire on the beach complete with a marshmallow or hot dog roast to pottery classes or culinary lessons, there is a wide variety to choose from.

A popular group excursion is to the Barrier Islands of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Cat Island, Deer Island, Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, and Ship Island. Fort Massachusetts, a beautifully preserved brick fortification completed in 1868, is on Ship Island. Each island offers its own unique history, attributes, and enticing features. The islands are accessible by private boat or public ferry.

One of Carriere's favorite venues for off-site functions is the Biloxi Visitors Center on the beach three miles from the convention center. It is a two-and-a-half-story Antebellum-style home complete with columns and a wrap-around porch. "The front veranda overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and one of the oldest working lighthouses in the United States. At sunset, the scene doesn't even look real," says Carriere.

Beauvoir, The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, an Antebellum mansion and the last home of Jefferson Davis, has been restored and furnished with period pieces, and is also available for off-site events.