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Tennessee, Alabama join tourism compact for Natchez Trace

TUPELO — Communities along the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway linking Nashville with Natchez will benefit from an added marketing boost as Alabama and Tennessee joined Mississippi as partners in the Natchez Trace Compact.

The announcement, made recently at the parkway’s central headquarters in Tupelo, resulted in an independent three-state cooperative. The group held its first meeting with its new partners later that afternoon to formalize plans on how the organization will work to promote and enhance marketing and visitor education efforts along the route in what the compact hopes will be a win-win for cities located along the parkway. Members also heard details from parkway officials regarding a formal memorandum of understanding, under which the compact’s current members operate.

A relatively young organization, the compact was formed in 1999 by Mississippi tourism officials in Tupelo, Kosciusko, Ridgeland, Jackson and Natchez. Since that time, the organization has been working with National Park Service staff on both establishing and refining tourism promotion projects, but has concentrated only on Mississippi communities. According to the latest research conducted by the compact, the average travel party size using the Trace consists of 2.3 adults who spend 3.1 days touring and spend $470.

The parkway commemorates the historic Old Natchez Trace and covers 310 miles in Mississippi, 32 miles in Alabama and 102 miles in Tennessee. Beginning as a series of trails hundreds of years ago, the Trace was then used by Spanish explorers, British troops and Southern frontier settlers. Today, the route draws visitors from throughout the United States, Canada and many European countries. Tourism officials said that they were excited about the prospects of what they can accomplish working in cooperation with each other. The compact’s goal is to draw tourists to the Trace, then into adjacent towns that tout their own unique venues and special events.

“The parkway’s non-commercial environment coupled with its wide variety of historic sites and scenic venues makes it one of America’s treasures,” said Linda Butler Johnson of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau who also serves as compact president. “Our efforts as a group are concentrated on attracting more visitors to explore all there is to see and do in the communities along this unique road.”

Johnson and Trace superintendent of operations Wendell Simpson of Tupelo stressed that collaboration and communication are critical components of the effort.

“We are excited to have Tennessee and Alabama join this effort, and we are supportive of the compact’s work under the proper guidelines since the parkway is both a unit of the National Park System and an officially designated national scenic byway,” Simpson said.

Group officials said that they will be working on revising marketing materials to include Alabama and Tennessee. Bobby King of the Tupelo-based marketing and advertising firm Bobby King Associates, gave a brief overview of marketing the compact has done to date and told compact members that their input will be critical in strategizing future plans as the compact seeks to maximize marketing resources.

Representing Tennessee’s Commission of Tourism Development at the meeting were assistant commissioner Phyllis Qualls-Brooks and director of sales Lee Curtis. They joined Alabama tourism director Lee Sentell and Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau executive director Susann Hamlin in citing their reasons for participating in the compact. Mississippi’s tourism director Craig Ray also attended the meeting and expressed his enthusiasm for the compact.

“Heritage tourism is a tremendous driver of visitors to Tennessee, and the Natchez Trace is doubly attractive to our international market as being authentically American,” said Qualls-Brooks. “With Nashville as the northern terminus for the route, it is a natural fit for us to be involved and to bring other Tennessee cities into the promotion.”

“We have talked about this for a while. Timing is everything, and we are enthusiastic about what we can do with the resources of three states supporting this effort,” said Curtis.

“We’ve envied this group for the past four years, and now we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” Hamlin said.

While only about 30 miles of the parkway actually crosses Northwest Alabama, it is a very significant portion of the state as it relates to tourism promotion, Hamlin said, with nearby attractions such as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Helen Keller Home and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum Home.

Ray said that it will be important to keep legislators and other leaders informed of the compact’s work as the compact continues to evolve and refine its marketing efforts.

Annual financial support for the initiative comes from both state contributions and member dues, officials said. State support is generally in line with Natchez Trace mileage with Mississippi contributing $100,000, Tennessee $25,000 and Alabama $10,000.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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