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If goal met, another Capital City exhibit almost a cinch

Majesty of Spain exhibit needs another 100,000 visitors

JACKSON — With six weeks left in its six-month run, the $9.8-million Majesty of Spain: Royal Collections from the Museo del Prado & Patrimonio Nacional at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson has already attracted nearly a quarter-million visitors. If the magic number of 326,000 visitors needed to break even is met by the time the exhibit closes Sept. 3, it will almost guarantee exhibit No. 4 in the Capitol City in 2003.

“If we do not encounter any kind of deficit with this exhibition, the picture looks highly promising toward the development of a future project,” said Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission of International Cultural Exchange.

Kyle recently returned from Europe, where he chatted with cultural officials in various countries about the possibility of an exhibition in 2003.

“We’re on a good course to make the number we need to break even,” he said. “Last week, we sold 10,000 new tickets. If we maintain that average, we’ll be close.”

As of July 10, about 232,000 tickets had been sold, contributing to an economic impact of more than $38 million for Central Mississippi. If 350,000 tickets were sold to the Majesty of Spain exhibit, the economic impact would surpass $50 million.

About 41% of the visitors to the exhibit, or roughly 95,000, have been students. Visitors have represented 97 foreign countries and every state in the U.S. All three exhibits combined, including 1996’s Palaces of St. Petersburg and 1998’s Splendor of Versailles, have attracted more than a million people to Jackson.

“We have four very important factors working in our favor,” said Kyle. “First, the Majesty of Spain exhibition has been designated the No. 1 event in the U.S. for 2001 by the American Bus Association. Second, the visitor response to this exhibition has been overwhelmingly positive. Third, we’ve had a visit by the King and Queen of Spain, a distinction that further points out and draws attention to the importance of this exhibition. And fourth, the millions of dollars of publicity generated from the news media has been incredible.”

According to survey results, visitor feedback has been highly positive. In an ongoing poll, exhibition volunteers have randomly interviewed 10 to 15 adult visitors per day across all shifts. The average age has ranged from 49 to 65, with 54% female and 46% male. As of July 10, nearly 250 attendees had been polled.

Of those, 99% said they enjoyed the exhibition, giving it an average rating of 9.3 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Most visitors (37%) learned about the exhibit through newspapers, 34% heard about it from friends, 26% from television reports and the remainder from magazines and radio, Kyle said.

About 37% stayed an average of two nights in Jackson, Kyle said.

“The Old Capitol Inn has done very well so far from the exhibit,” said Mende Malouf Alford of the Old Capitol Inn. “Business slowed down about three weeks ago, but we’ll pick back up in the end of July. All of our guests have enjoyed ‘a true southern experience.’”

Maybelle Beasley, executive vice president of the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association, said business has been brisk.

“There have been no reports from members about lower than expected bookings,” she said.

More than three-fourths (77%) of visitors had already visited, or were planning to visit, a restaurant, Kyle said.

“We have definitely had some business from the exhibit, but nothing

major (like the) St. Petersburg (exhibit),” said Bill Latham of Amerigo in Ridgeland. “Hard to beat that one and it is the one everyone remembers because it did bring a lot of business to the city.”

The $11.1-million Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibit was the highest attended event in the U.S. in 1996, with 553,894 paid visitors and generating a $61-million economic impact in the community, with $4.4 million in sales taxes. The Splendors of Versailles exhibit had 274,000 paid visitors, attributing to an estimated $30 million impact for the state.

“Out of hundreds of entries every year submitted and being competitively judged across every state and province, it is truly remarkable that Jackson has been home to three of the nation’s top events in the last five years — two No. 1 events in such a short period of time,” said Michele Janis, vice president of communications for the American Bus Association. “It’s an exceptional achievement. It’s a distinction.”

More than a third (35%) of those polled had already visited, or were planning to visit, another attraction, Kyle said.

Approximately 30,000 people visited the “Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends” exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art, which was on display from Feb. 3 to May 13, according to the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau (JCVB).

And 93% of the respondents said they would attend an exhibition, such as the Majesty of Spain, on a regular annual basis, Kyle said.

“The most important feedback you could have gotten from the motor coach industry was the designation of the event in the first place because that says so much about the exceptional planning that went into the event in preparation for receiving groups as capably and professionally as possible,” Janis said.

Only 16% of visitors polled were from Jackson, Kyle said.

“We’d like to see a better turnout from Mississippians,” said Dee Gardner, communications coordinator for the JCVB. “We encourage residents to take this opportunity to enjoy what’s in their own back yard — fun, affordable attractions close to home. Our current promotional efforts focus on encouraging Mississippians to visit their capital city.”

Many visitors to the exhibit traveled from neighboring states, including a surprisingly high number of travelers from Georgia. Even though estimates for 2001 were unavailable at press time, the tourism industry had already reported a significant increase in the number of Georgians that visited Mississippi in the last decade.

In 1992, approximately 164,700 Georgians traveled to Mississippi. By 1999, that number had increased to 678,930. Georgia travel groups spent an average of $947.25 in Mississippi on their most recent 2000 visit to the state, according to DK Shifflet research.

“Since 1992, Mississippi has seen an increase of Georgia visitors by about 312%,” said Darienne Wilson, director of the Mississippi Division of Tourism.

Group sales to “The Majesty of Spain” have been brisk, Kyle said and many companies have held special events at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion since the exhibit opened March 1. The University of Mississippi Medical Center was one of many organizations that have offered its employees discounts to the exhibition, Kyle said.

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


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