Tourism – Caring for America Project Casts Hope and Helps Rebuild the Katrina-Battered Mississippi Gulf Coast


Two-Day Volunteer Effort Clears Rubble and Paves the Way to a Brighter Future

BILOXI, Miss., March 23 /PRNewswire/ — Providing hope and 5,000 hours of hard labor, more than 330 members of the tourism industry descended upon the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast this weekend in an effort to help ameliorate the communities of Biloxi, Gulfport, D’Iberville and Pass Christian. Brought together under the auspices of Tourism Cares for Tomorrow, a public charity of the tourism industry, volunteers spent two full days working at culturally significant coastal sites and departed with an increased sense of responsibility for the area.

Tourism Cares for Tomorrow is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of worldwide tourism sites, and this was its biggest effort to date, allowing tourism industry professionals and students to “give back” to a community that had been a thriving tourism destination.

From sifting through rubble to save historic artifacts to planting sod that would provide a sense of normalcy along Beach Boulevard, tourism volunteers from every level and sector found validation in the work accomplished and the warm friendships made with Gulf Coast residents. Transportation executives, hoteliers, tour operators, travel agents, presidents of convention and visitors bureaus, and other industry professionals came to work, and work they did, laying 165 pallets of sod, cleaning two tons of debris from attractions such as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home, and the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, painting and restoring the interactive Lynn Meadows Children Center, and sending a wave of optimism through the area.

“Tourism is a $6.35 billion industry and a huge part of the local economy along this coast. Katrina not only washed away the culturally historic communities here, it also washed away a big part of our livelihood, but it could not take away our spirit,” said Craig Ray, director of tourism, Mississippi Development Authority. “I cannot believe the substantial progress Tourism – Caring for America volunteers made. With 20 percent of our economy laid off due to Katrina-related issues, we have been working day in and day out over the past six months to get our communities back on track. This kind of concentrated effort makes us feel like we moved mountains in just a few days.”

“Each of these participants in the Tourism – Caring for America project has experienced firsthand the devastation that photographs and feature stories cannot possibly communicate,” said Bruce Beckham, executive director, Tourism Cares for Tomorrow. “For the volunteers, the blisters, sun burns and bug bites will heal within a week, but we’ll cherish forever the opportunity to contribute and all the memories and friendships created.”

Skeptics were concerned an event of this size and scope could not be undertaken along the coast. Accommodations, meals, supplies and direction needed to be provided for more than 330 participants. Sponsors in and around the area stepped up to the plate, donating a huge amount of resources. “I was nervous that the infrastructure wasn’t there, and that attendees might walk away feeling as though they hadn’t made an impact,” said Dan Sullivan, participant and president of Rhode Island-based tour operator, Collette Vacations, who brought nearly 30 staff members with him. “But seeing the accomplishments made in just two days by this group has instilled renewed hope and allowed us and residents to actually visualize how beautiful this area will be again when it is completely rehabilitated.”

Many prominent tourism organizations and individuals participated as volunteers and sponsors of this event. They included: Amadeus, American Bus Association, American Express, Ask Jeeves, Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, Best Western International, Budget Travel, Cendant Hotel Group, Inc., City of D’Iberville, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Globus & Cosmos, Greater Rochester Visitors Association, Group Travel Leader, Hattiesburg CVB, Hertz, MaCher, Margaritaville, Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, Marriott International, MS Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, MS Development Authority-Division of Tourism, MS Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mohegan Sun, National Tour Association, Pepsi Bottling Company, PhotoVision, Student & Youth Travel Association, Tauck World Discovery, Travel South USA, United States Tour Operators Association, Valley Forge CVB, and Wal-Mart, and a special thanks to the Mississippi Air National Guard and Home Depot.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast restoration served as the fourth annual Tourism – Caring for America event. Past Tourism – Caring for America projects include:

— Ellis Island, N. Y./N. J. (2003) cleaning up the south side of Ellis
Island

– St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, La. (2004) restoring tombs,
repainting gates and walls and replanting trees while keeping the
historic ambience of the 215-year-old cemetery

– Mount Vernon, Va. (2005) clearing 300 acres of George Washington’s
forest of dead trees and debris left behind when Hurricane Isabel
struck the region in 2003.

Tourism Cares for Tomorrow is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity that benefits society by preserving, conserving and promoting the responsible use of the world’s natural, cultural and historic treasures and supporting education and research to help secure the positive future of travel and tourism worldwide. For additional information about Tourism Cares for Tomorrow, please visit http://www.tourismcares.org/ .

Related Articles