By LISA MONTI
Leisure and business travelers arrive in Mississippi by the millions every year to play or work at the state’s wide ranging event and entertainment venues, historical sites, state parks and various attractions.
For small groups and family reunions to major conventions, meeting planners can choose from a variety of outstanding attractions and accommodations across the state. Options are available for the budget-minded traveler as well as those who want to indulge in world-class luxury.
Mild climate is available most of the year and every month the calendar of events in small communities and large cities are filled with festivals and special events to keep visitors as busy and entertained as they want to be. The state’s music heritage is known internationally and its culinary tradition is widely praised for fare from down-home dishes to gourmet specialties.
In 2015, the state pulled in 22.6 million visitors, and tourism officials are working hard to bring more people to Mississippi and with the addition of attractions and amenities, the visitor total should continue to grow as more travelers consider Mississippi as their destination for leisure and business.
The tourism professionals across the state continue to spread the word about what Mississippi has to offer, from the Coast’s casinos and beaches to the historic sites in Natchez, Tupelo’s musical hometown of Elvis and the metropolitan atmosphere and amenities of Jackson.
Renee Areng, executive director of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, said that in 2015 the Coast hosted a total of 5.8 million visitors who spent nearly $2 billion. She said specific numbers on conventions aren’t available because most destination marketing organizations only keep track of the leads and bookings it generates.
Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast promotes South Mississippi as a tourism and convention destination worldwide and the staff works to attract ever-increasing numbers of leisure, convention, sports and business visitors.
Areng said the team targets a mix of group business determined by demands and needs “from large events at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center to smaller meetings, we have a space that fits every budget and group. We aim to book weekday meetings and events in the off-peak seasons to ensure a steady drumbeat of opportunity for our partners throughout the region.”
She said Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast staff attends trade shows, subscribes to referral services including CVENT, conducts sales missions in target markets, works to secure earned media coverage in trade publications and utilizes social media to increase visibility and connect with potential clients.
Jan Pannell, meetings sales manager at the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “Our unique offsite venues make Tupelo an exceptional location for meetings and conventions. Where else can you meet among 100 classic and antique cars or kick off your convention from the front porch of the birthplace of the King of Rock ‘N Roll?”
The economic impact of all those visitors is significant in any size market. Pannell said Tupelo hosted 24 conferences, conventions and meetings with 12,289 participants and saw an economic impact of $1,577,593.
Tupelo’s Pannell said she networks with meeting planners from across the Southeast by attending conferences and conventions, participating in trade shows and making calls on decision makers for these corporate events.
“We strategically target state association executives and meeting planners who will make the decision to meet in a certain destination,” Pannell said. “Tupelo is a leader in progressive thinking in the state of Mississippi. We offer visitors the chance to be inspired by this progressive community. We want to be the center of positivity for meeting planners.”
The staff at the Jackson Convention Bureau works at attracting associations, religious groups, sporting, equine, medical, tours and reunions of all sizes.
The JCVB offers services to make sure conventions run smoothly and successfully. The staff will work with hotels or restaurants to find available space, rates, accommodations and dates for a meeting and help line up tours, transportation or programs for spouses or children. They also will supply maps and promotional materials on area attractions, restaurants and tours to include in registration packets and can help promote events through social media and press releases.
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