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Tunica CVB takes top prize for fifth year

At the Mississippi Tourism Association’s (MTA) annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism February 1-4, featuring the theme “Rhythms of the Delta… Where Tourism Meets the Soul,” the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) took home for the fifth time the CVB of the Year Award in the budget category of more than $1 million.

Being honored with the award by the 450-member statewide organization at the Grand Casino Tunica’s Convention Center was especially sweet for Tunica CVB president and CEO Webster Franklin, who started the CVB in 1997 from the ground up — with no history, brand image or marketing tools.

“The growth and success of the Tunica CVB can be attributed to the hard working staff and great tourism industry partners here in Tunica,” said Franklin. “Tunica has great tourism product … from our nine casinos to our championship golf and great shopping, it’s really an easy sell. I’m just honored to be a part of our area’s amazing growth over the past 10 years.”

The Tunica CVB, the lead marketing group for the county’s nine casino resorts featuring more than 6,300 hotel rooms, more than 40 restaurants and numerous and varied outdoor recreation and shopping venues, has grown more than 400% in the seven years of its existence and now has a staff of nine. More than 10 million annual visitors grace the Delta hotspot.

The Tunica CVB recently announced plans to host the first annual Tunica Air Races at the Tunica Airport June 2-5. Only the second air race of its kind, the event is the fastest motor sport in the world.

Yazoo City-based MTA, the voice of the hospitality industry in Mississippi, in collaboration with the Mississippi Development Authority Division of Tourism, hosted 350 tourism industry leaders at the awards luncheon February 3.

“In last year alone, tourists contributed over $31 million to the state’s budget,” said keynote speaker Gov. Haley Barbour. “Also, we have seen the biggest increase in employment since 1999. That’s why recognizing those who are in the tourism industry is so important.”

On average, 90,000 people visit Mississippi every day, totaling approximately 33 million annually, pointed out MTA executive director Sarah Spellman.

“Tourism is our state’s largest private sector employer,” she emphasized. “One out of 12 non-agricultural jobs are connected to the tourism industry.”

Payroll income from tourism employees totaled approximately $1.6 billion last year and produced $450 million in state tax revenues and $144 million in city and county tax revenues.

MTA was formed as a result of an 18-member Governor’s Task Force on Tourism established in February 1986 “to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the hospitality industry in the state and return recommendations for improving this vital, but often overlooked industry.”

The task force recommended the creation of a statewide public/private sector promotional organization, originally named the Mississippi Travel Promotion Association. To reflect the organization’s increased scope over time, the name was changed to Mississippi Tourism Promotion Association in 1995, and finally to Mississippi Tourism Association in 1997.

Other awards presented by MTA at the awards luncheon:

• The Canton CVB was named CVB of the Year in the budget category of $500,000 to $1 million.

• The Greenwood CVB was named CVB of the Year in the $250,000 to $500,000 budget category.

• Tourism Promotion of the Year was presented to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association.

• Emeril and Aldin Lagasse were named Community Volunteers of the Year.

• Marilyn Lyons of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art received the Tourism Achievement Award.

• Attorney General Jim Hood garnered the Governmental Friend of Tourism Award.

• Beth Carriere, executive director of the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau and 2004 MTA president, was named MTA Member of the Year.

• The Philadelphia Main Street Association’s Ham Jam Arts Festival and Canton’s Victorian Christmas Festival were co-named Festival/Event of the Year.

• Tunica County Supervisor Cedric Burnett was recognized for his involvement in Tunica RiverPark, named Travel Attraction of the Year. “Tunica County has invested a tremendous amount in attractions to increase tourism, and it is definitely paying off,” said Burnett.

• Consumer Magazine of the Year was presented to Mississippi Outdoors.

• The Commercial Appeal won the Travel Media Award in the newspaper category.

• Southern Living’s Farrah Austin was named Travel Writer of the Year.

• Group Travel Leader, a monthly trade magazine featuring various destinations for travel planners, which has featured Tunica and other Mississippi towns, was awarded Travel Trade Publication of the Year.

• WAAY-TV, the Huntsville, Ala., ABC affiliate, received the Travel Broadcast Award for its work on Tunica CVB’s 2004 fall key market campaign. “Tunica is a wonderful destination and an easy sell,” said WAAY operations manager Ben Boles.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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