By Sara DiNatale
The state’s largest regional tourism bureau has chosen a new director from Texas to take over after the abrupt and controversial exit of its previous leader three months ago.
Judy Young, who most recently worked marketing a city outside San Antonio, will begin her new role as Coastal Mississippi’s executive director on Feb. 1. Young has been working in the tourism industry for the last two decades.
“I was looking for a dynamic destination and it’s an exciting opportunity,” Young told Mississippi Today. “I was always a big travel person. I love travel and tourism. It’s the greatest education there is out there. It feeds the soul.”
Young was the vice president of the visitor’s bureau in New Braunfels, Texas. In her new job, she will be marketing a region rather than one city. Coastal Mississippi covers three counties in a partnership between Hancock, Jackson and Harrison counties on the Gulf Coast.
“Judy is an incredibly accomplished tourism leader and will bring a wealth of industry experience and knowledge to the organization,” Coastal Mississippi commission board president Brooke Shoultz said in a statement. “At this pivotal time for the tourism industry, Judy’s leadership will undoubtedly prove invaluable to the continued growth and prosperity of our destination.”
The Gulf Coast bureau’s previous director Milton Segarra announced his abrupt resignation in September 2021 following criticisms that his annual salary of $225,000 was too high.
With Young’s appointment, commissioners decided to scale back the executive director salary to $175,000 per year.
Segarra also had a prior rift with the board that governs the tourism bureau when they voted not to act on a complaint he filed regarding a remark made by one of its members.
On the heels of Segarra’s resignation, Harrison County leaders were at the center of more disconnect and in-fighting among board members and local leadership. The flare-up threatened the three-county bureau’s future enough that 11 casino executives wrote a joint letter to the group begging them to find a path forward.
In the fall, Shoultz released a statement saying the commissioners resolved all misunderstandings and were committed to the regional tourism model.
“They regret not meeting sooner during the many months of misinformation and rumors that caused tension and divide,” Shoultz said in October.
Coastal Mississippi is funded by a 2-3% tax on hotel stays across Harrison, Jackson and Hancock counties. In a budget report to Harrison County made late last year, Coastal Mississippi said it had about $5.2 million in its budget from the taxes.
The bulk of that tax revenue — about 80% of Coastal Mississippi’s funding — comes from Harrison County’s casino resorts and hotels. As a result, Harrison County has the largest voting bloc within the board of commissioners that approves Coastal Mississippi’s spending.
Young told Mississippi Today she is used to navigating multiple public bodies while leading a tourism bureau. She has also been impressed with the passion of local leaders and business owners.
“I’m excited there’s so much engagement,” Young said. “It’s always a heavy challenge if there’s no passion from stakeholders about their destination.”
Young said she and her husband — a Mississippi native — were house hunting and exploring “all 62 miles” of the Coast for the next few days.
“There is a great balance of generational investments and new economic development here,” Young said, “and amazing special events.”