HATTIESBURG — When tourism sales manager Kristie Godwin was addressing Christmas cards for the Hattiesburg Convention & Visitors Bureau last year, she had an idea. Why not send New Year’s cards touting resolutions that would remind travelers about the various things to do and see in the Hub City?
In December, about 6,000 cards were mailed with Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions, including “Stop and smell the roses … walking through the All-American Rose Garden on the campus of Southern Miss” and “Appreciate art … viewing the 167-foot circular mural, The Spirit That Builds,” ending with the message: “And the No. 1 New Year’s Resolution for 2002 is…spoil myself…enjoying Hattiesburg!”
Since then, callers have been lighting up the Hattiesburg CVB’s phones with inquiries.
“Last year, the holiday cards we sent got so much attention that we wanted to make the cards part of our marketing program and promote the area,” said Godwin. “It included a photograph featuring the staff on Long Leaf Trace dressed in period attire with each person wearing a Santa hat. But we only sent those to people we work with a lot.”
Godwin said because of the economic slowdown, the Hattiesburg CVB wanted to differentiate itself from other CVBs.
“Because other CVBs send out holiday cards, we decided New Year’s cards would be special,” said Godwin. “We sent them to travel writers and people in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets to touch base and remind them that we’re a good leisure weekend getaway.”
Patrick Bell, assistant director of the Hattiesburg CVB, said he believes the campaign has contributed to the area’s steady hotel occupancy.
“After listening to tourism directors from other parts of the country, we’re doing well because their business has dropped off considerably,” Bell said. “We haven’t seen a decrease in occupancy, but it has leveled off.”
Wintertime usually draws golfers from the Midwest to South Mississippi, Bell said, and special mailers are currently being prepared as a follow-up to the New Year’s cards.
“A lot of golf packages are bringing snowbirds in, mostly from the Chicago area,” he said. “Rates are generally $79 a day double occupancy and that includes golf at local courses.”
Golf packages account for roughly 8% of the overall business at Cabot Lodge in Hattiesburg, the largest booker of golf packages in the area.
“We sell about 2,000 (golf package) nights a year, usually with two people to a room,” said Clint Smith, general manager of the Cabot Lodge, who added that overall, bookings were up. “That’s about 3,800 people coming in with new dollars going out to eat and doing other things in town.”
About half of all golf packages are booked for March, Smith said.
“We go to a lot of golf shows in northern states when people are tired of the cold and snow,” he said. “We do a tremendous amount of business with people in Illinois and Wisconsin, and a surprisingly large number of people come from Louisiana. Most of it is outside money finding it’s way in.”
Only 5% of visitors are “just traveling through,” Smith said.
“They may decide to stop and play golf, but mostly they come here as a destination for golf,” he said. “If the spouse is not a big golfer, then they might go on to the casinos.”
The Hattiesburg CVB has lured outdoor enthusiasts to the Hub City with another marketing campaign, “Hattiesburg Lure,” a promotional package that included a fishing lure made in Hattiesburg and was targeted to Southeast Outdoor Press Association travel writers.
“That was a lot of fun and it was very effective,” said Godwin.
The Hattiesburg CVB has also captured a slice of the lucrative meetings and conventions market. Last year, 128,000 people from the tri-state area attended meetings on 853 event days in the Hub City.
“Last year, that business alone worked out to a little over $10.3 million a year impact to the Hattiesburg economy,” Bell said. “With easy access to Highway 49 and I-59, the attendance, according to some of the meeting planners, has been a little better than other areas.”
The Hattiesburg CVB has successfully increased its tourism coffers by focusing on other travel segments. Its share of the sports market has increased with regional and national tournaments. Bikers and hikers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge and the surrounding area are flocking to the Long Leaf Trace rails-to-trails program from Hattiesburg to Prentiss. As an interest in history has been renewed, more people are visiting the new Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby, similar to New Orleans’ D-Day Museum. City leaders are working aggressively to renovate downtown Hattiesburg, including the Saenger Theatre, restaurants, retail shops and art galleries.
“Golf and the convention and business travel markets are our biggest draw,” said Bell. “Leisure is also a big draw, but it’s harder to track. But the bottom line is, we know that direct mail really works for us.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com</a.