There’s more to Mississippi than gaming. So while gaming is the state’s number one tourism draw, once visitors are attracted here by casinos, why not entice them to stay longer to enjoy the state’s other attractions?
“We want to show visitors that no one delivers such a diverse selection of experiences the way Mississippi does,” said Darienne Wilson, director of tourism development for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).
With that in mind MDA recently launched their new “Welcome to the Weekend” campaign aimed at the drive-in tourism market within a 500-mile radius of Mississippi.
Wilson said the campaign highlights the warmth and charm of Mississippi’s rich cultural heritage with an innovative and dynamic spirit, and interjects an emotional rhythm that embraces the abundance of the state’s recreational and entertainment attractions.
“From the Mississippi Delta to the Gulf Coast, visitors can listen to the music of the soul, take a glimpse of history, taste some of the finest dining the South has to offer, dive into some of the country’s best water sport activities and camping excursions, play at one of over 150 golf courses, relax at any one of over 400 festivals, and even try their luck at a pot of gold in one of our 31 casinos,” said Wilson. “There is something for everyone and plenty of enticement for visitors to stay an extra day so they can make the most of their visit.”
In 1999 about 32 million visitors came to the state, and overnight stays increased by 11%. The tourism development department would like to increase those numbers even more by marketing the state as an accessible and affordable destination.
“Visitors are finding more reasons than ever to visit our state,” Wilson said. “People are not just passing through Mississippi; they are staying for the weekend. Welcome to the Weekend shares the wealth of activities and resources Mississippians have long cherished, and conveys our desire for visitors to leave with a sense of having found personal fulfillment in the Mississippi experience.”
According to the MDA, tourism was up 9% in 2000, and contributed more than $6 billion to Mississippi’s economy, making it the state’s second largest employer in the service sector.
Wilson said that the tourism industry has responded well to the ads that are running in newspapers, magazines, on television and on the Internet.
“The tourism industry feels like the advertising campaign is representing the entire state from the Delta to the Coast, which is difficult,” Wilson said. “Really our goal is just to be very targeted. When you have a limited amount of funds, you can’t be everywhere.”
It isn’t possible to gauge in-state reaction to the campaign because the ads don’t run here since the purpose of the advertising is to bring in tourists from outside of the state. In addition to increasing tourism revenues, the advertising also helps enhance the state’s image.
“Tourism is a feel good business, and we know that when people come here, we are changing their image of our state forever,” Wilson said. Misty Velasquez, director of communications for the Harrison County Tourism Commission, said the state’s new campaign dovetails nicely with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new ad campaign that started April 1.
“I am totally excited about this new campaign for the fact that it is reaching out and getting across the message there is a lot to do in the State of Mississippi,” Velasquez said. “We’ve known that, and it is time for people from other states to know the potential for fun in this state and in our area. The advertising campaign is trying to include all the elements in the state and of course, those on the Gulf Coast are included in the ads.”
The Harrison County ad campaign focuses on “A Well Balanced Escape.” One ad has two pictures that meet in the middle with a half face on each side. One side says 10 a.m., fish, showing a visitor fishing, and the other side says, 10 p.m., chips, showing the visitor at the gaming tables. That and similar ads are running in 18 different markets including newspapers, national magazines and other publications.
Velasquez said the ad campaign was developed after doing a focus group study in Atlanta, Birmingham, Tampa and Baton Rouge. They found that most messages people in those areas had received about the Mississippi Gulf Coast were from private properties.
“Only one type of experience was being marketed,” she said. “After people got here, they understood there was more to experience than just one thing. That taught us we needed to get out and educate people about the diversity of our attractions. The Well Balanced Escape campaign is similar to what the state is trying to do, show people there is more to Mississippi than what their perceptions may lead them to believe.”
Walter Tipton, executive director of the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is relieved that the state still has an advertising campaign because the tourism budget was recently threatened in the last round of budget cuts.
Tipton has a very favorable impression of the ads. “They are only 30-second spots, and there is only so much we can do in 30-second spots,” he said. “ At least it is a fresher look at Mississippi. These are great teaser ads.”
Tipton said another important tourism effort involves joint state and local efforts. Convention and visitors bureaus in the state are teaming up with the state to visit Atlanta on a marketing sales blitz. About 150 appointments have been set up.
“We supply manpower, and they set up appointments, “ Tipton said. “We’ll spend a week on Atlanta. That is true direct marketing. I like that.”
Nicole Whittington, public relations manager for the Tunica County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that if the Welcome to the Weekend campaign can be judged on the number of calls they have received in response to the ads, it has definitely been a hit.
“We have gotten numerous calls and inquiries from the piece,” Whittington said. “I think it was a successful piece. It portrayed a wide variety of things to do. I think the state is doing a good job on their marketing campaign.”
The Mississippi Division of Tourism has also recently launched a more advanced, user-friendly Web site, www.visitmississippi.org. In addition, the state gets lot of calls to its toll free number, 1-800-927-6378, for the Mississippi Tour Guide.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.