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Q&A: Craig Ray, director of the Tourism Division at the Mississippi Development Authority

Come one, come all

Ray touts all that Mississippi has to visit

With the summer months here, Mississippi is playing host to visitors from around the nation and the world.  Craig Ray, director of the Tourism  Division at the Mississippi Development Authority, is quick to point out there is a lot for them to see and do in the state. He recently offered the Mississippi Business Journal his opinion on current tourism issues and facts about Mississippi.

Q —  What are the top five greatest Mississippi tourist attractions?

A —  B.B. King Museum, Elvis Birth Place, Vicksburg Battlefield Park, Pascagoula River, Tunica River Park.

Q —  Are there any cities, areas or even attractions in Mississippi that are currently underdeveloped from your perspective?

A —  MDA is currently involved in a mapping project to designate sites and amenities to serve our communities.

Q —  Civil War reenactments used to be big throughout the state. Are they still as popular?  Why or why not?

A —  The sesquicentennial of the Civil War will be celebrated in 2011. Many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War were fought on Mississippi soil. It was a time considered by many to be the darkest hour in this nation’s history. Touring countless battlefields, monuments and historic cemeteries to capture a glimpse of history remains a top reason to visit Mississippi.

Q —  How does the Mississippi Development Authority target different international demographics to get them to our state? For example, blues is very popular over-seas. How does the MDA attract or advertise to these potential visitors?

A —  MDA Tourism maintains a system for determining increase/decrease of the international visitation to Mississippi. We work to increase the number of international visitors to Mississippi and maximize their length of stay. We promote Mississippi as an international travel destination to tour operators and receptive operators. We develop in-depth international market knowledge and service readiness statewide. We conduct Mississippi-specific pan-European, Asian and Canadian sales, marketing and public relations efforts through a Mississippi/Memphis partnership and state public relations efforts. We cost-effectively work to establish a Mississippi image and presence in developing markets through cooperative regional and international alliance partnerships

Q —  There are a significant amount of advertisements seen within Mississippi for visiting areas in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.  Does Mississippi have any equally appealing or successful campaigns running within those states or areas?

A —  Yes, the estimated FY 2008 advertising return on investment was $12 for every $1 in advertisements placed. This is based on the tourism general fund revenues generated by travel parties who saw or heard a Mississippi ad and opted to visit or extend their trip/stay as a result of the Tourism Division’s domestic consumer ad placement costs. Our FY 2008 domestic consumer advertising contributed about $24.6 million, or 6.3 percent, to Tourism’s $390.1-million portion of Mississippi’s general fund.

The areas of focus of the Mississippi Tourism niche marketing campaign are:

– Outdoor adventure — outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, rock climbing, RVing, bird watching, equestrian and other nature tourism-related activities.

– Food — including restaurants, recipes, chefs, specialty food items and products and cooking schools.

– Golf — as a year-round, accessible and affordable activity.

– Mississippi culture — with the greatest focus on music, literary, history, African-American heritage, arts and crafts and fine arts.

Q —  What is the status of the Blues Trail, and how can Mississippi capitalize on being the birthplace of American music?

A —  Mississippi is a destination for music lovers. Gov. Haley Barbour created the Mississippi Blues Trail to recognize the talents of the state’s countless musicians in the Birthplace of America’s Music. Now with close to 100 sites, this path offers an unforgettable journey into Blues history.

Q —  What do you believe is the most attractive thing about Mississippi?

A —  It would have to be many things. Mississippi as a golf destination has received many accolades.  For instance, five of Mississippi’s 150 golf courses were cited for excellence in Golf Digest’s first-ever ranking of its “Top 40 Casino Courses.”

As the Birthplace of America’s Music, blues, country, rock ‘n roll, they all started right here. From blues legends Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King to the king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, to the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers, the only place you’ll find the history, heritage, legends and folklore that surrounds the sounds of America’s music is Mississippi.

Mississippi’s culinary heritage reflects a diverse cultural influence —  the influence of Creoles, Croatians and Vietnamese on the Coast, the early 20th century Hispanic, Italian and Chinese  influence in the Delta and the rich African-American influence throughout the state that was  the home of famed New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne.

Mississippi’s unspoiled natural resources for the sportsman and adventurer alike have gained national recognition.  The adventure and recreation opportunities along and on our Mississippi River, Pascagoula River and our Mississippi Gulf Coast more than ever is becoming a destination for outdoor recreation.

Age: 47
Degree(s): University of Mississippi, B.B. A.
Clubs or Societies participated in during college: Commander and lieutenant commander of the Sigma Nu Fraternity
Favorite Food: Italian and all home cooking
Favorite Movie: “Rudy”
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Music: Country and blues

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