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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Division director offers insight on latest developments

In the six months that Mississippi Development Authority tourism director Craig Ray has been on the job, he has played a role in the Atlanta Braves Double-A franchise moving to Pearl next season and the National Governors Association (NGA) annual conference that was recently announced for 2006 on the Gulf Coast.

In an interview last week, the Mississippi Business Journal asked Ray about changes within the department, new offerings and what else is in the hopper to bring in tourism dollars for Mississippi.

Mississippi Business Journal: Since we last chatted, MDA has a new advertising agency on record, Frontier Strategies. Can you outline the state’s new marketing efforts?

Craig Ray: More niché marketing. Web site development. The launch of a new Web site for the State Division of Tourism will be more interactive and allow for one-stop shopping for the consumer. In the Internet-driven world of travel planning today, Mississippi’s tourism Web site will allow tourists access to comprehensive travel information and planning tools and enable them to book their travel straight from the site.
The launch of our fall marketing campaign: “It’s Your State. Go See It.” This will be similar to the spring marketing campaign by the same name where the Division of Tourism will run ads on Mississippi television and radio stations, awarding five in-state trips to winners at the end of the campaign. The spring campaign was a great success, and this campaign will offer trips to cities different from the first campaign.

MBJ: Why did you choose another in-state marketing campaign?

CR: We’ve seen new statistics that family and friends are our best sources of information to market the state, with the Internet taking second place. The five winners of our spring contest had never been to the destinations they visited. We’re anxious to follow up with them to see what they’ve shared with their family and friends about the experience. We’ll pick another five winners in the fall campaign, which we see as a great way to educate our own citizens in this state about Mississippi tourist attractions. If more and more of our citizens cheerlead for the state, we can keep those dollars here and capture those of out-of-state family and friends.

MBJ: The Division of Tourism recently completed the first of four familiarization tours throughout Mississippi for legislative members of the House and Senate tourism subcommittees. What have you learned so far?

CR: This past year, the House formed a subcommittee on tourism. We thought, and the legislators agreed, that a great way to learn more about what we do and to see the value of the advertising dollar at work was to tour the state as we see it. Together with the Mississippi Tourism Association, we escorted seven tourism subcommittee members to Canton, where they were exposed to the film industry and The Square, on to Greenwood, where they toured The Alluvian and Viking’s Cooking School, and then to Cleveland, Clarksdale and Tunica. It was interesting that some of our members from one part of Mississippi had never been to another. That ties in with our in-state campaign.
It was fun to show off our state. The tour went over so well, I cannot emphasize how successful it was. It was perhaps the best thing that’s happened since I started this job. It allowed us to establish a dialogue as friends, to show legislators our needs, and how they can better help our industry.
We’ve planned an October trip that will start in Jackson and cover Vicksburg, Port Gibson and Natchez. We’re excited about that, and I think it can only help our relationship with the House and Senate as we move forward.

MBJ: What’s happening with the newly formed, permanent Mississippi Blues Commission?

CR: The commission just had its first meeting, and the Division of Tourism is greatly involved in the commission’s efforts. The blues is a huge national and international draw, and the creation of the commission will allow for a comprehensive blues marketing effort. It’s another way we can all work together, and another way to market that region of the state.

MBJ: What about the ongoing recruitment of big events to Mississippi?

CR: The NGA conference announcement is obviously the biggest news of the week. We’re excited about the opportunity to host that event in 2006.
We’ve also agreed to participate as a state in the World’s Fair in Japan next year as a sponsor at the U.S. Pavilion. It will be a great opportunity for the state to reach out for new business — and new visitors — while we’re there.
We haven’t given up on the (tennis) Davis Cup. If the U.S. were to beat Belarus in September, then the U.S. could possibly host the finals later this fall. Our name is back in the hat to bid for that tournament. If we don’t get it this year, I know at some point next year we’ll get that tournament. We’re staying focused on task. To already be bidding on the Davis Cup is a huge step for this state.
Overall, we’re continuing to compete in recruiting large conventions, tournaments and events to the state. It is the division’s goal to think bigger and see big things happen in Mississippi.

MBJ: Tell us about enhanced, strategic departments within the Division of Tourism.

CR: The public relations office has increased its efforts within media relations, and the Golf Marketing program has now developed into the broader Sports Marketing program. As we bid on the Davis Cups and other events, I found there was a need for us to also look at other sports, such as speedboat racing and potential football bowl participation — a group of businessmen would like to bring a bowl game to Jackson — so we expanded our golf department into an overall sports marketing department with individuals focusing on all those efforts. Janet Leach is in charge and I’m overseeing that department.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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