JACKSON – With less than a month before the highly touted Majesty of Spain exhibition opens for a six-month run, the hospitality industry is gearing up for the busy travel season.
“We expect visitation to compare to the Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibition in 1996 with over 500,000 visitors to the Capital City,” said Dee Gardner, communication coordinator for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau (JCVB).
Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission of International Cultural Exchange, said he has been elated with the “widespread, intense interest.”
“This is the strongest and keenest interest that I’ve seen in an exhibition,” Kyle said. “I’m sensing more excitement with the Majesty of Spain exhibition than with the other two, perhaps because the hospitality industry has had a chance to analyze the two previous projects and recognize it as a strong catalyst for tourism.”
A wave of curators was in town last month, with more teams expected as the exhibition opening draws near, said Kyle.
“Eleven of the 14 galleries are complete,” he said. “We already have most of the faux marble, Goya tapestries, the royal gondola and carriage. A four-man team from El Barco is here to assemble the porcelain room, and on Feb. 5, a second crew will arrive to assemble the Hall of Stuccoes.”
“I’m very impressed with the way everything is coming together,” said Dr. Javier Morales, comisario of the exhibition for the Patrimonio Nacional, who was appointed by the Spanish government to work with Kyle.
To spread the word, March has been designated as “pack-out month” to fuel tourism interest.
The exhibition has been prominently featured in various widely circulated magazines, such as Art & Antiques, Southern Accents, and Veranda. Mississippi Magazine dedicated numerous pages to the exhibition in its March/April issue, including a feature on its 2,000 volunteers.
“Group tour inquiries and bookings are strong,” said Wanda Collier-Wilson, executive director of the JCVB.
Last fall, the American Bus Association named the Majesty of Spain Exhibition the top U.S. event for 2001.
“A single bus tour company may bring dozens of trips to the city,” she said. “Their repeat business is key to the success of (the Majesty of Spain exhibition and) ‘The Enlightenment Series’ success.”
JCVB’s major outreach to individual travelers rolls out in February with a regional advertising campaign to increase awareness of Jackson’s activities for 2001, and to build recognition of “The Enlightenment Series,” said Gardner.
“Our full-color visitor’s guide, which will be mailed (this) week, is packed full of information to help visitors locate exhibits, events, hotels, restaurants, shopping, transportation and other vital information that visitors need,” she said.
The JCVB hosted a series of hospitality workshops last month, where Jackson’s tourism industry employees learned about special events and received customer service training, Gardner said.
“Our goal is to prepare everyone who interacts with visitors to answer questions and direct tourists to the city’s exhibits, permanent attractions, hotels and restaurants,” said Rebecca Ainsworth, director of marketing for JCVB.
“The workshops will help spark local interest through word of mouth referral about the series by attendees of the workshops. We’re also rolling out banners, rack cards and table tents.”
Jeff Good, owner of BRAVO! and Broad Street Bakery in Jackson, said the hospitality workshops were very much needed and appreciated.
“One of the most important things for us in the hospitality industry is to ensure our front line service employees are adequately trained on the goings on about town,” he said. “Jackson is not a heavy out-of-town tourist market on a day-to-day basis, so when the big exhibit comes along, all of a sudden, the face of our customer changes. As members of the hospitality industry, it is important that we not only give our guests great service as usual, but now we need to provide an increased level of service in terms of knowledge – knowledge of the events around the city, knowledge of attractions, such as the Ag Museum, Jackson Zoo, Mynelle Gardens, Smith Robertson Museum and so forth, and knowledge of how to get from one place to another.”
“When our service personnel are only used to answering questions internal to the business, such as ‘Where’s the restroom? What comes with that entree? How late are you open?’ it becomes a challenge to ensure they can answer the types of questions out-of-towners ask, such as ‘Where is the Hilton? Is there a drug store near here? Where do I buy tickets for the planetarium show?”
Mike Cashion, executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant Association, said restaurants throughout the state – not just metro Jackson – will feel the impact of the exhibit.
“Travel buses and tour groups will be arriving in Mississippi from all parts of the country so everyone will have the opportunity to reap the benefits and additional customer counts,” he said. “The MRA is serving as a distribution source for marketing materials for operators throughout the state. Different operators will approach the opportunities in a different manner. Restaurant owner Jeff Good has a very specific theme-oriented approach. Others may not have the same opportunity to adjust their menu, but will market group business opportunities to the fullest.”
Good said Spanish-styled entr