Of the handful of states that participated in the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan, Mississippi was the only one that focused solely on tourism.
On Thursday, August 4, Gov. Haley Barbour led a delegation charged with expanding Mississippi’s ties with Japan and promoting tourism in the Magnolia State to the U.S. Pavilion, where Mississippi Day was celebrated. Delta blues guitarist James “Super Chikan” Johnson and jazz pianist/vocalist Ora Reed, a native Mississippian who now lives in Japan, provided live entertainment during the afternoon reception.
“The organizers told us that our reception was the best one to date,” said Craig Ray, tourism director for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). “It was well attended by the Japanese, tour operators, travel writers and members of the U.S. consulate. Good reports came out of it. It was a wonderful day for our state to promote its tourism product and to give potential visitors an opportunity to hear the rich sounds that have always been part of our everyday life.”
MDA representatives passed out Elvis fans to 35 delighted tour operators that attended a music-themed luncheon on Mississippi Day. “Many of them didn’t realize that Mississippi is the birthplace of American music-country, rock and roll, gospel, the blues,” said Gray Swoope, MDA deputy director and COO. “It was very well received and really helped set the tone for Mississippi.”
During the first couple of days of the trip, Ray met with tour operators, journalists and Northwest Airlines representatives in Tokyo to promote tourism to Mississippi.
“The response from the Japanese was very positive,” he said. “They have probably been the most conservative group for travel since 9/11 and are now traveling again, to the South and to Mississippi. They like our product, from the casinos to music and the blues and Elvis to golf, and they have a real strong interest in the Mississippi River.
“We’re finding out that the older Japanese population is really interested in education and history. So we can not only promote shopping and other fun events, but also bus groups and boat rides to really showcase our history. That part of the excursion fits well with our travel plans here. We’re looking forward to working with them more often on their planning.”
The governor’s 17-day trade and investment mission to Asia coincided with showcasing Mississippi at the World Expo, which runs 185 days, from March 25 to September 25.
An estimated 15 million visitors, including business and political leaders from around the world, are expected to attend the World Expo before it closes. Of the 120 country exhibits, the U.S. Pavilion Mississippi, designed by Mississippi architect Bud Holloman, is a major attraction that celebrates nature, progress and human achievement.
Barbour arrived in Aichi the night of Monday, August 3, and “hit the ground running Tuesday morning,” said Swoope, who set up a series of meetings for Barbour. “He had six meetings that first day, including a dinner meeting with (Nissan CEO)
Carlos Ghosn, Tom Schieffer, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, and other high-level Nissan executives. During the course of the week in Asia, he had over a dozen individual meetings.”
Barbour also visited China, South Korea and Taiwan, showcasing Mississippi’s new economic development initiative, Momentum Mississippi, and recent major reforms in workforce development programs designed to attract additional international investment and help create higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs in Mississippi. During the trip, he met with officials from the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, and soon after, the automaker announced that Mississippi was the leading contender for the new Kia plant to be built in the U.S. within the next few years.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.