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Travel season hot in the Magnolia State

It’s summertime and that traditionally means vacation time. Except for families with school-age children, that’s not so true anymore. Still, Mississippi is having a good summer tourist season, according to several tourism officials.

“Around the state the numbers are trending in the right direction and the overall outlook is good,” said Craig Ray, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Division of Tourism. “The numbers for rooms and rounds of golf are up. The price of gas will help in-state travel and it does not seem to be affecting nationwide travel either.”

He says the state has done a great job of cooperative marketing with its many tourism partners that include convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), casinos, golf courses and attractions. “We’ve learned how to do it,” he said.

“Everyone is working together and I’m looking forward to getting the fiscal numbers at the end of June.”

Craig added that the state is learning how important tourism is with its effects on the economy and residents’ lives.

Tourism definitely takes center stage in Natchez where Walter Tipton is executive of the CVB after working away from his hometown many years. “Tourism has always been a big part of the economy here but it’s becoming a bigger part with the loss of manufacturing jobs,” he said.

With its world-famous spring and autumn pilgrimages, Natchez is not generally know as a tourist spot for summer. Tipton says that’s changing. The town was booked solid for rooms during the July 4th weekend and summer is looking good.

“We have a tremendous number of class and family reunions here,” he said, “and we have a lot of conferences that give people reasons to come to Natchez.”

The CVB is also thinking outside the box with inside events to give travelers reasons to visit Natchez. The Great River Road Food Festival takes place the first weekend in August opening with a Taste of Natchez and including events all over town. There’s even a progressive dinner at several antebellum homes. The Miss-Lou Wildlife Expo and Food, Home & Health Show will bring in visitors the second and third weekends of August.

Summer may not be the big travel season it once was but Tunica, Hancock County and the Gulf Coast are seeing lots of families visit this year. All have added more family-friendly attractions.

Known as an adult destination with 54 the average visitor’s age, Tunica is evolving as an all-around destination, says CVB executive director Webster Franklin. The new River Park, Tunica Queen Riverboat, public ballpark and arena and exposition center provide family activities.

“It’s too early to tell the number of kids who’ll be visiting here this summer but that segment is definitely growing,” Franklin said. “We’re also seeing more visitors take advantage of things in Memphis such as the zoo. I think the Memphis/Tunica area is becoming closer in people’s minds.”

He added that the two places are cross marketing naturally by tying the areas together with some events.

Franklin says Tunica’s 6,300 hotel rooms stay 80% occupied and it’s business as usual in the summer. With three golf courses now open, rounds of golf are up.

“We’re doing more things in the community than just gaming as more things become available,” he said. “Gaming gave us opportunities for development and for other attractions to open.”

Beth Carriere, executive director of Hancock County’s CVB, is pleased to say things are fine this summer for Mississippi’s West Coast. “We noticed early on a huge influx of visitors in RVs,” she said. “We thought they wouldn’t come because of the price of gas but that hasn’t been the case.”

Although the area has visitors year round, they still have more multi-generation travelers in the summer when festivals and conventions are big. The CVB has even produced a brochure, “Just for Kids,” that lists the many activities for children.
“The market will tell you what it wants and we try to listen carefully,” Carriere said. “We had many requests for information about activities for children.”

She said the county’s 1,500 hotel rooms and rental condos stay booked. With many projects in the works, condos are expected to become a bigger part of the mix.

All-around vacation destination

In Harrison County, Steve Richer says activity on the beach is a good gauge of a busy summer season. “I look at how many businesses there are on the beach and there seem to be more and more,” he said. “We’re in the traditional vacation time now and getting a lot of families here.”

Richer, executive director of the Gulf Coast CVB, says Harrison County is an all-around destination that just happens to also have casinos. The area is bringing in different market segments because it has a lot to offer with something for everyone.

A large, new waterpark opened on July 1 to join other family-oriented attractions that include the beach, miniature golf, excursions to Ship Island, Marine Life, a children’s museum, numerous specialty camps and more.

“There’s lots for people to do with kids,” Richer added. “We’re seeing a good mix.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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