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Letter to the Mississippi Business Journal

Editor:

I am compelled to address a few of the issues raised in Elizabeth Kirkland’s article, “Exhibit numbers may not be so majestic, some say,” (December 3-9, 2001, page one) and point out that, as usual, the bigger picture issues have been glossed over for a sensational headline.

First, allow me to thank the good Drs. Gail Grass-Fulgham, John F. Hurley and Gerald Lee for taking time and interest in our study. They have indeed brought a flaw in the tabulations to my attention of which I will address. However, the doctors have also again pointed out that just because someone has a doctorate in a particular specialty it does not give them instant expertise in all areas.

To illustrate, I would ask that the esteemed Dr. Hurley find an associate in the statistics department of Jackson State University and get a quick course in probability. Our “1%” sample (962 persons), because of the random nature of the survey process, across all hours, all days of the week using different interviewers is completely projectable to our base of attendees (318,000+). Tripling, quadrupling or even increasing that sample 10-fold moves the reliability very little at the level of confidence we have for the survey.

Second, on the lodging estimates double occupancy is completely fair and reasonable as a base estimate and is considered an industry average. I am baffled at the inference that the numbers of rooms were inflated in our survey. I look forward to an explanation of why we should have assumed quadruple occupancy for this exhibition. Let us keep in mind that a visit to a cultural exhibition such as the Majesty of Spain is not similar to a trip to Disneyland with the kids.

In fact, according to the Travel Institute of America (1997 Profile of Travelers who participate in Historical and Cultural Activities), persons attending cultural tourism typically differ from other U.S. travelers in a number of ways. Not the least of which is that cultural tourists spend more than 44% more than your average tourist per trip (not to mention also being more affluent and having higher levels of education).

As to the $103 per night, the selection of hotels is representative and they were published rates.

Now, the good doctors did find a flaw in the restaurant figures and I must say “thank you.” There were 95 persons that did say “yes” to having already been at a restaurant and saying that “yes” they planned to go to one again. That changes instance of restaurant use from 93% of persons surveyed to 84% of persons, which is substantive. However, this also points to the fact that there are potential multiple meals for persons not staying overnight and we only counted persons who did not stay overnight with only one meal. Factoring in those additional meals could, however, potentially increase our figures further.

As to Mr. Lee’s assertion that a meal cost should be one-half to one-third of the $15 average, I trust the travel professionals at the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau to know that business intimately. And again, I refer to the fact that cultural tourists spend more money than your average tourist.

We disclosed that all figures in the survey could be +/-4%. So, let’s assume the minus. For nothing but giggles, let’s say —10%. It still doesn’t address the real issue: why are tourism revenues down in light of an exhibition that had over 318,000 persons go through the turnstile?

Only about 15% of attendees spent a night in Jackson. From a marketing perspective you can call that issue “stickiness,” or the ability to make people stick around and do other things. It didn’t happen the way we might have liked — why is that? The exhibition did its job — it brought the people to town. Only 38% of surveyed persons claimed to be seeing another attraction in Jackson — which points to a conclusion that the majority of persons (62%) came here with single-minded purpose. Why is that?

It’s certainly not in a lack of quality in the other area attractions and not for a lack of effort on behalf of the Majesty of Spain sales staff, which religiously included literature for community events in its group sales packages.

The bigger picture issue is how the Jackson area and the state are being marketed, to whom and by what methods. That is, after all, one of the continual and fundamental drivers of tourism to the area. The Majesty of Spain brought the people to Jackson. It did the job it was intended to do from a tourism standpoint — to be a draw.

I know it’s easy to take pokes at research post facto — and maybe even fun, too. But it’s not as easy to address the real issues — like what would have tourism revenues looked like without a Majesty of Spain? That’s the real story and the primary question that all tourism-related businesses in the area should be concerned with.

If we revised our figures less the duplication identified by the good doctors in restaurants, and going even further, remove school children completely from the question, the total economic impact drops to $38 million and tax impact is $2.8 million. These are substantive revisions. However, it still does not address the real issue — how could hospitality revenues be down 5% in Jackson while we see such an influx of tourists?

The exhibition did its job — it brought people here. I challenge anyone to point to a larger single draw for the area during the time. The real question to be probed is what was (and maybe is) causing overall tourism to suffer.

That issue is much harder to address and doesn’t make for as “majestic” a headline.

David Gosnell, David Gosnell&Others, Jackson

The Mississippi Business Journal welcomes readers’ letters, but retains the right to edit or reject all submitted material. Submission does not guarantee publication. Views expressed in letters are those of the writer and not necessarily opinions held by the MBJ, its staff or advertisers. Letters must be signed and include adequate contact information. Send your letters to the MBJ: Mail 5120 Galaxie Drive, Jackson, MS 39206-4308. Fax (601) 364-1006. E-mail mbj@msbusiness.com. Direct questions or comments to editor Jim Laird, jlaird@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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