Becoming part of the travel club — Curt Yeomans

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.

Did you know that traveling to the Mississippi Gulf Coast will soon be like going on a trip to Kroger? No, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I have too many fond memories of the gulf coast to make a snide remark about it.

What I mean is, people who go to the coast, will soon be able to use a free card to get travel deals at hotels, casinos, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau officials announced the impending launch of the “Club Gulf Coast Card” at the beginning of the month, in Biloxi.

Essentially, based on reports I found in the Sun Herald newspaper, I gather it will work like your average grocery store loyalty rewards program. Normally, you would pay full price at participating hotels and restaurants, but you get a special, discounted price, if you swipe your “Club Gulf Coast Card” at check-out. The deals would only be good for businesses located in Mississippi’s Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

The average traveler will be able to sign up for the card free of charge, through the visitors bureau web site –– www.gulfcoast.org –– or Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, or at Mississippi welcome centers located on Interstate 10.

The card ties into the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new “Play Your Way” campaign, which will launch May 1. The campaign features four tourism slogans, which include: “Play for Keeps” (go to a casino), “Play House” (go to the beach with your family and build a sandcastle), “Play Ball” (play golf), and “Play the Field” (nature sightseeing).

I just think this rewards card idea is genius, because it is totally different, and ties into the mindset of people looking for any deal they can find during tough economic times. It is basically like they are saying, “Yes, we know you may not be able to afford a big expensive trip, but if you join our club and come here, we’ll make sure you get a bit of a bargain vacation.”

The discount card concept exists in a few other communities around the world, including Malaysia, Australia, Spain, and even in other U.S. cities, but many of them charge a fee, and the cards, sometimes, have expiration dates. The free-to-join cards are still an emerging concept.

The “Club Gulf Coast Card” is one of the rare free-to-join tourism rewards card programs that I am aware of, however. I searched the Internet for a bit, but could not come up with any other free-to-join programs, but that’s not to say no other ones exist. They may exist, but they are few and far between, and they get buried under mountains of pay-to-join discount programs.

Honestly, if you’re going to ask me to join a tourism rewards program, it’s gotta be a really good deal. I would rather join a free program, and discover the rewards along the way, than shell out $60 for a limited-time program, which only has a couple of appealing deals lumped in with many more that I don’t care for.

Much like gambling in a Biloxi casino, it’s all about the risks involved, and I like to take the lowest risk possible.

It will be interesting to see if this works out for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If it does, maybe, we will see this emerge in other little niche communities in the Southeast, and eventually across the country.

Curt Yeomans covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247, or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.