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Prior to the arrival in 1996 of Stephen Richer as executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Biloxi-Gulfport region was a tourist area without tourists.

Mr. Richer, 53, saw the potential in mixing gaming with the other attractions to bring tourists to the 26-mile stretch of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. His strategy continued using the tagline, "Playground of the South," for its $3.5 million worth of advertising.

However, he revamped the marketing effort by cultivating the support of the region's hotels, restaurants, fishing boats, museums and historical tours.

"We had to bring everyone together," he says. "Everyone was ready to work as a group to position the area as a destination."

The campaign actually hit a high point with the opening of the Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel in January 1999. The Beau, along with other attractions, joined in the advertising immediately and promoted the Gulf Coast as much as it did their hotel. The idea was to encourage non-gamblers to visit and convince gamblers to stay a little longer to enjoy some of the other attractions.

Mr. Richer says the area's size worked for, not against, the plan.

"Small communities are excited about success and will easily join in with others," he says. "Making the Gulf Coast visible was less of a challenge than I've had at more established places."

Today, the area is a tourist "hot spot" and is actually challenging nearby New

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