The number of foreign tourists to the U.S. has grown 22 percent since 2009. The number of international visitors to the Magnolia State is still relatively small, but Mississippi's top tourism official tells MPB's Evelina Burnett, that means there's lots of room to grow.
Malcolm White is director of tourism for the Mississippi Development Authority. He says international tourism is a big opportunity for the state and thinks Mississippi’s combination of history, culture and heritage is a great draw for foreign visitors.
"We see them as a new market, a growth market, for people who perhaps know a little about New York, might know a little bit about Florida, maybe have been to California, but have never really seen the heart and soul of America," White says.
Mississippi has tourism representatives in Canada and Europe, and the visitor numbers show this effort – Europeans make up more than a third of the state’s foreign visitors, and Canada is the single largest source of foreign tourists.
"The reason Canada is so strong is of course, a, it's close and you can drive, but, b, it's a lot about golf," White says. "And when the golf courses are frozen in Canada, the snowbirds come south. We've had a lot of success combining golf, gaming and what we call cultural heritage tourism."
Overall in the U-S, Canada and Mexico bring the most visitors, but the biggest growth countries are Brazil and China. The number of tourists from Brazil to the US grew 19 percent last year, from China 35 percent.
Edward Ramotowski is with the US state department.
"In both countries, we handled more than 1 million visa applicants in 2012," Ramotowski says. "And we'll probably break that record, certainly we will in China, in 2013. Those are both markets that are of great interest to the private sector and the travel and tourism sector. The average visitor from China spends over $6,000 per visit, and that supports a lot of jobs."
Tourism officials say Mississippi is also looking to South America and Asia for growth, heading soon to a golf trade show in China for example