More than twenty million leisure and business travelers visit Mississippi each year, drawn to the state by its casino resorts, historic and cultural attractions, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. In 2015 travel and tourism in Mississippi accounted for more than eighty-five thousand direct jobs and more than thirty-two thousand indirect jobs—10.5 percent of all employment in the state—with an annual payroll of approximately $2.79 billion. The tourism industry was the state’s fourth-leading private employer. Approximately 22.33 million tourists visited Mississippi. Most domestic visitors came from within Mississippi or from Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas. Mississippi also welcomed visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Italy, and Norway.
At the forefront of the Mississippi tourism industry is casino gaming. As of 1 February 2016 Mississippi was home to twenty-eight state-licensed casinos, including twelve on the Gulf Coast, nine in the Northern Region (Tunica and Coahoma County), and seven in the Central Region (Greenville, Washington County, Natchez, and Vicksburg). In addition, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians operates three gaming establishments: the Bok Homa Casino near Laurel and the Golden Moon and Silver Star Casinos, both of which are located in the Pearl River Resort in Choctaw. The casinos offer the excitement of slots, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and poker, as well as a wide range of resort amenities, including stage shows, full-service spas, and fine dining.
Mississippi is a popular destination for history enthusiasts, who are drawn to the state by its antebellum architecture, Civil War battlefields, and civil-rights-era landmarks. Dozens of the state’s palatial antebellum mansions are open for tours, with many doubling as bed-and-breakfast inns. Natchez alone is home to more than five hundred antebellum homes, churches, and public buildings. Some of Mississippi’s carefully preserved Civil War battlefields host reenactments in which costumed men and women represent Confederate and Union soldiers. Museums, landmarks, and monuments statewide, including those that are part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, tell the story of the fight for equal rights and of the men and women who influenced the civil rights movement in Mississippi and ultimately nationwide.
Mississippi is home to four national parks and twenty-five state parks, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The Natchez National Historical Park includes two antebellum homes: Melrose (1845), the estate of a wealthy cotton planter, and the William Johnson House (1841), the home of a free, African American barber and successful Natchez businessman of the 1840s. The Vicksburg National Military Park, 1,800 acres of rolling hills, monuments, and earthworks, attracts more than 500,000 annual visitors. The Natchez Trace Parkway, a national highway maintained by the National Park Service, stretches diagonally through Mississippi, following a trading path that has existed for more than four hundred years. The Gulf Islands National Seashore extends some 150 miles from Mississippi to Florida. The Mississippi portion of this national park begins on the mainland near Ocean Springs and then stretches into the Mississippi Sound to include the barrier islands of West Ship, East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois. Protected from development, these natural areas provide habitats for wildlife and are popular for camping, beachcombing, bird watching, and ecotourism. The state parks offer these activities as well as a variety of other recreational opportunities, including water parks, equestrian trails, mountain bike trails, disc golf, and miniature golf. The parks also include four golf courses: Mallard Pointe, the Dogwoods, LeFleur’s Bluff, and Quail Hollow. The state also has more than 140 additional golf courses, ranging from simple nine-hole courses to spectacular resort courses created by Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Davis Love III, Jerry Pate, and other renowned designers.
The state’s cultural heritage attracts visitors interested in music, art, and literature. Mississippi is famous as the birthplace of the blues, country music, and Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. Presley’s modest birthplace in Tupelo logs more than sixty thousand visitors each year. Visitors come from around the world to travel along the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Mississippi Country Music Trail, which highlight important sites in the history of those musical genres. In addition, numerous festivals, juke joints, and other venues offer the opportunity to hear current musicians play.
Museums statewide showcase the work of established Mississippi artists, while the next generation of painters, sculptors, and potters thrives in artists’ colonies from the northeastern hills to the Gulf Coast. The state’s literary heritage is reflected in the masterpieces of William Faulkner, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright and in the best-selling novels of John Grisham, Greg Iles, and Nevada Barr. Visitors are drawn to Mississippi by these famous writers’ homes—Faulkner’s and Welty’s are open for public tours—as well as by the cities and landmarks these writers immortalized in their pages.
On 29 August 2005 Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast, causing massive destruction. In the months following the storm, more than half a million volunteers from around the nation poured into the Gulf Coast communities to assist with the rebuilding effort, a phenomenon now known as voluntourism. Many volunteers found themselves entranced by Mississippi’s geography, culture, and people and have returned not only to continue helping but also to vacation.
- Mississippi Development Authority, Tourism Division/Research Unit, “Fiscal Year 2006 Economic Impact for Tourism in Mississippi”
- Mississippi Development Authority, Tourism Division/Research Unit, “Fiscal Year Tourism Industry/Economy Projections, 2007” (February 2007)
- Mississippi Development Authority, Tourism Division/Research Unit, “Fiscal Year 2010 Economic Contribution of Travel and Tourism in Mississippi (February 2011)
- Marlo Kirkpatrick, Mississippi Off the Beaten Path (2007); Mississippi Blues Trail website, msbluestrail.org
- Mississippi Country Music Trail website, mscountrymusictrail.org
- Visit Mississippi website, www.visitmississippi.org