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Meetings, conventions mostly unfazed, but some cancellations reported

Flag vote not without consequences around state

So far, fallout from the flag vote in April, in which Mississippians voted two to one to retain the 1894 flag with a Confederate battle emblem instead of a newly designed state flag, has resulted in at least two cancelled meetings and conventions. Combined, the two events would have made a $400,000 economic impact on metro Jackson.

The Black Chief Officers Committee of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPF) cancelled its annual meeting, scheduled Feb. 28-March 3, 2002, in Jackson. The economic impact of the event, in which 150 delegates were scheduled to attend, was estimated at $62,897, according to the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau (JCVB). IABPF representatives sent JCVB officials a letter expressing concern about the outcome of the flag vote.

The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. cancelled plans for its 2002 Southern Regional Conference scheduled March 7-10, 2002, in which 800 delegates were slated to attend. The JCVB estimated the cost to the city was $335,448 in lost revenue.

Upon hearing the news of the cancellation, Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. told the group’s president that Hinds County voters wanted the new flag and shouldn’t be penalized for the outcome of the vote.

Even though the response was favorable, organizers didn’t reschedule the event.

“If a planner expresses concern, we reassure them that Jackson’s hospitality is second to none and that our hospitality industry wants their business” said JCVB executive director Wanda Collier-Wilson. “We also remind them that Jackson is an affordable, accessible, diverse and culturally rich destination.”

Last year, more than 1.9 million visitors spent nearly $186 million in Jackson. Those travelers supported jobs for more than 26,000 tourism employees in restaurants, hotels, amusements and retail stores in Hinds County, generating a payroll of $457 million, according to the Mississippi Employment Security Commission.

Elsewhere in the state, tourism directors aren’t reporting cancellations because of the flag vote. Sara Withers, marketing coordinator for the Tunica County Chamber of Commerce, said, “We thought people would bring it up, but they haven’t.”

Stephen Richer, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he’s not aware of any cancellations — or lost bookings.

“I’m not saying that maybe some people haven’t decided not to call, but if so, we’re not aware of it,” Richer said.

Rick Taylor, director of the Hattiesburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there’s been some response via their Web site, “but I don’t think it’s from individuals in the industry, just individuals expressing their opinions pro and con about the flag issue.”

“We haven’t had any identifiable clients express a preference one way or the other or indicate that that would alter any existing or future plans,” he said.

Stephen Martin, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Development Authority, said it’s impossible to know what potential tourism revenue was not realized because of the flag vote.

“However, we do know that, as supported by our consumer inquiry report for FY2001, we have experienced a 24.94% increase in inquiries,” Martin said. “The Mississippi Development Authority is continuing to move forward to maximize its resources to promote the hospitality industry. Our combination of good value, moderate climate, easy accessibility, variety of attractions and activities along with numerous outdoor recreational activities affords us the opportunity to be competitive and capture our fair share of the market. Our focused approach to advertising and promotion has proven itself to produce results. We are confident we will continue to experience growth in the industry.”

Kathie Price, Ph.D., associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Hospitality Management at the University of Southern Mississippi, said the flag has been a big tourism issue in many states, but usually only if a particular group wants to make it an issue and call for boycotts.

“My observation from the general public is that it’s not going to be a detriment to tourism,” Price said. “If there’s no group that determines they want to make an issue of it and call for a boycott, then it will have little or no impact. In other states, whether it’s been for the Martin Luther King holiday or flag issues or whatever and they do call for boycotts, there’s no doubt they do have an impact. They can be change agents. As long as there’s no organized effort there shouldn’t be an impact in and of itself.”

Earlier this month, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume left the door open for the NAACP to boycott Mississippi because of its state flag. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who met with Mfume and state lawmakers to discuss the possible boycott, urged him not to take action. His request was denied, however, at the national convention last week when the NAACP announced an unofficial boycott of the state. Convention delegates adopted a resolution encouraging members to meet out-of-state for family gatherings and reunions.

“Unless there are national pressures, I do not expect to see any drop in tourism totals due to the vote,” said Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at USM. “Most families are looking for the best vacation value within their budgets and Mississippi remains a bargain in that regard. Those that have visited before are generally highly satisfied with the experience and the friendliness and hospitality of our people help overcome perceptions created by issues such as the flag.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.


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