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World traveler keynotes annual tourism conference in Natchez

Natchez — The e-revolution, new consumerism and changing social values and demographics and online shopping behavior were converging forces on U.S. travel trends in 2005, said Peter Yesawich, keynote speaker of the Mississippi Tourism Association’s (MTA) 2006 Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held at the Natchez Convention Center in late February.

“In 2005, 93% of active American travelers took at least one leisure trip, and 58% of all U.S. adults took at least one overnight trip more than 75 miles from home,” Yesawich told a crowd of industry professionals. “That number would have been higher except 30% of people are taking fewer leisure trips because of difficulty getting away from work, and 28% said financial conditions make it difficult for them to travel.”

Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown and Russell (YPBR), who received the World Travel Award from the American Association of Travel Editors and was named one of the “25 Most Extraordinary Marketing Minds” by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, spoke about ways to capitalize on travel trends to capture tourism dollars at the conference’s 8:30 a.m. breakfast meeting February 27.

When the Internet saturated the American public with a plethora of online travel shopping choices, travel agents were forced to creatively market their services and some had to incorporate fees into ticket prices to stay afloat, he explained.

In 2004, 63% of leisure travelers used the Internet to plan some aspect of travel, but last year, that number dropped to 59%. However, online bookings increased from 45% in 2004 to 47% in 2005.

“The Internet is no longer viewed as the ‘perfect resource,’ just very functional,” he said, citing 68% of users had difficulty finding what they are looking for and 76% said the amount of advertising was a nuisance. YPBR research found that 38% of users are willing to pay 20% more for customized products and services.

“Consumers want strategic control,” Yesawich pointed out. “They want to participate in the creation of new options by turning both existing and new brands into their own and by personalizing products and services. They want to control the transaction through access to comparative pricing.”

Lani Riches, co-owner of Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, had heard Yesawich’s speech at a Small Hotels of the World conference in London last November. “He was fabulous the second time around,” she said. “He knows exactly what tourists are looking for.”

MTA president Anne Coggins said Yesawich’s talk was enlightening because “tourism in Mississippi is a major contributing factor in the state’s economic success. Last year, tourists spent more than $6.35 billion within the state, and 92,400 Mississippians were employed in the hospitality industry. As industry professionals, it’s our responsibility to further develop the tourism product and to keep its momentum going by spreading the word that Mississippi is a true travel destination. Our success will encourage guests to come to our state and contribute to Mississippi’s economic success.”

The three-day conference gave the 250 conference attendees an opportunity to explore new attractions in Natchez, and included an annual golf tournament that was held at the Beau Pre’ Country Club. MTA hosted its third annual shopping tournament in stores located throughout downtown Natchez.

The 450-member private sector organization also presented its annual awards for tourism achievement for 2005 during the conference, including special recognition of native Mississippians Robin Roberts and Shepard Smith for outstanding national media coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

“They are a credit to themselves and the news organizations they represent,” said Coggins. “We’re honored and proud of these two Mississippians.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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