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Regional approach to tourism seems to be working in Delta

After 10 years of working together — rather than against each other — Mississippi Delta cities with convention and visitors bureaus have benefited from a regional approach to tourism.

The Mississippi Delta Tourism Association is the entity by which a coordinated effort of tourism groups in the Mississippi Delta coordinates and develops cultural tourism centered around historic sites, the blues and agricultural tourism.

Utilizing resources

This effort has helped many Delta cities better utilize scarce financial resources to promote interesting sites in and around their communities to people from outside the Delta.

With initial financial assistance from the Mississippi Development Authority to develop a marketing campaign, numerous tourist, historic and other interesting sites are now marketed as day trips — or longer — to a variety of markets such as with the National Tour Association and the American Bus Association.

“This has been a very successful regional marketing effort to promote the Mississippi Delta,” said Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. “There is such a rich history in the Delta that in order for the outside world to know about it and experience it, the region has to pull together and work together to make it happen.”

“From what I can see, they’ve done that and done it quite well,” said Speed. “We have been able to help out the association with funding to plan and develop a marketing campaign for the region.”

Working well

Bill Seratt, executive director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, heads up the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association.

“It has worked quite well for all of us,” said Seratt. “We were all competing for the same tourists and really working against each other. But by coming together and working as a region of convention and visitors bureaus, we’ve been able to maximize our advertising dollars while seeing an increase in day trips and over night stays for events in the Mississippi Delta.”

The unified effort among Delta tourism groups and chambers of commerce is quite a success story. The effort has also garnered state and national praise as a model of cooperation where there had once been competition.

“The main thing is to get people into the Delta. Once we get them here, then we want them to know that many cities in the Delta have things to offer so they may stay an extra day to visit, look around and shop,” said Seratt.
Bobby King and Associates of Tupelo handles the marketing campaign for the association.

Kappi Allen, director of tourism for the Coahoma County Tourism Commission, said Clarksdale and the county “has benefited greatly from the association. It’s been a good fit for us while also helping out the rest of the Delta. We benefit in so many ways by being a part. We have an advertising program through the Mississippi Tourism Association.”

“We do cooperate with each other through trade shows where we go and sell the Delta. We really do get a lot of bang for our buck. We’ve also been very successful with our relationship with the National Tour Association and the American Bus Association,” she said.

The newest member of the association is the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has been working with the association before officially joining.

Vicksburg is at the far end of the Delta and is at the other end of the comment from Greenville writer David Cohn who described the Delta as running from the lobby of the Hotel Peabody in Memphis to Catfish Row in Vicksburg.

“It just makes sense for us to be a part of the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association,” said Colleen May, director of marketing and sales for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I know a lot of my colleagues in tourism in the Delta and they have helped make this organization successful.”

Vicksburg, like Tunica, also has a successful casino market and benefits from the advertising campaign the association supports.

“It’s a good fit for us to help maximize our marketing resources and advertising dollars,” said May.

Reaping benefits

And with Clarksdale the undisputed location as the king of the Delta blues — especially at the famous crossroads of the blues at U.S. 61 and U.S. 49 — the city and county has reaped a host of benefits from its participation in the association.

“Oh, yes, it’s been very good for us,” said Allen. “The blues venues here have really benefited through partnerships with advertisers with cooperation with our other Delta partners.”

Allen points out that even though there is a group effort to sell the Delta, “we still maintain our individual products and sell our own individual attractions in our area. Through focusing on the regional approach, it’s been a boon for tourism in the Delta.”

At the northern end of the Delta is the economic juggernaut that is Tunica and its ever-growing economy due to the casino industry and related businesses.

“The whole aspect of the association is to bring the tourism product under one fold in the Delta,” said Webster Franklin, president and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’ve done a very good job of that. By approaching it as one continuous product, one can experience a whole region rather than just one location.”

“We’ve tried to position Tunica as a tourism destination whereby visitors will come here and stay for a day or two. If we can extend that stay an extra day by promoting what the region has to offer, then everyone else can benefit.

“The tourist can visit our casinos and the Tunica area then stay an extra day and go on down to Clarksdale to the blues clubs or visit the B.B. King Museum in Indianola or shop in Cleveland’s historic downtown,” said Franklin.

One more day…

In 2005, Tunica had more than 20,000 buses visit the Tunica area from various companies around the country.

“If we can keep them in the Delta one more day, then we are really being successful. It’s a very good association and has been working well together for some time. We benefit from being a part,” Franklin said.

The Mississippi Delta Tourism Association meets generally once a month in Cleveland.

Partnering with the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association is the Mississippi Division of Tourism, Mississippi Tourism Association, the Blues Highway Association, Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, The Delta Council, the Delta Regional Authority, Delta Chamber Consortium, Mississippi Blues Commission, Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Mississippi Outfitters, the National Park Service and Viking Range Corporation of Greenwood.

Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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