His downtown has seen a resurgence since his arrival a few years back
With nearly 15 years experience in Mississippi tourism and a marketing career that spans three decades, Bill Seratt knows a thing or two about promoting the tourism industry in the state.
He’s currently the executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, where he’s been at the helm since 2007. Before taking that position, he served in the same capacity at the Greenville-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Having lived along the Mississippi River nearly all his life, Seratt has a strong sense of place.
“There’s an old T.S. Elliot quote, ‘The river is within us, the sea is all about us,'” Seratt said. “That’s how my wife and I both feel. We absolutely love this river country. We are the river.”
Seratt was born in Arkansas in the flatlands of the Mississippi River Delta, and his wife, the former Susan Crowe, was raised in Hollandale.
Seratt grew up in an agricultural family and spent his childhood between the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas and the San Joaquin Valley in California.
After graduation in 1968 from Lakeside High School in Lake Village, he attended Arkansas State University and transferred to Memphis State University, where he obtained a degree in advertising and marketing.
After college, Seratt stayed in the advertising business for years, working in nearly every aspect of an agency: media buyer, account services, production manager.
“I’ve worked in literally every aspect of an advertising agency,” he said. “I’ve done it all.”
He eventually moved on to serve as marketing director at several companies before moving to Greenville as the CVB director in 1996.
“(Our daughter) Elizabeth was 3, and one of the reasons we moved there was so that she would have a sense of place,” he said. “We wanted our daughter to have some of that wonderful upbringing in the Delta that we had.”
Seratt said the path his career has taken has been a natural one.
“I’ve always been interested in marketing and the influence of words on purchasing decisions,” he said.
He attributes this to a love of reading that spawned from an early age.
“I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, so I’m a great fan of television, and it was that, coupled with an addictive reading personality,” that lead to his education and later, his career.
Of the successes Seratt counts in his career, he said he’s proud of having increased the income of the Washington County CVB, which was $225,000 annually when he arrived and $500,000 when he left.
“I was able to build the income of the CVB to the point that it has funding to adequately market that area.”
He said that income was increased through the hospitality tax by branding the market, strategic advertising and participating in trade shows that encouraged travel to the area.
In Vicksburg, Seratt works at what is the state’s oldest convention and visitor’s bureau in an area that has a strong tourism product with the Vicksburg National Military Park, the pilgrimage, the Mississippi River, arts and entertainment and wildlife visitors.
“It’s an incredibly rich product,” he said.
Vicksburg also has a successful downtown market with attractions such as the Old Courthouse Museum, the Beidenharn Coca-Cola Museum, the Children’s Art Park at Catfish Row and shops on Washington Street.
Plans are also underway for the renovation of the Levee Street Depot to include a transportation museum and offices for the convention and visitor’s bureau and the city’s Main Street program.
“Visits at our attractions last year were up, but just because our numbers were up doesn’t mean we don’t face the challenges of the economy,” he said. “We all do.”
Seratt said his job in fighting the challenges is to market Vicksburg strongly and wisely.
“We have to keep our name and our product out there,” he said. “And that will help encourage economic recovery. That’s the challenge of all destination markets: packaging, promotion and value. Today’s traveler wants quick information, an easy planning experience, and they are looking for value.”
Seratt lauded the collaboration of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division and local convention and visitors’ bureaus, which work together to successfully promote the state.
“The state has done a great deal to promote our heritage through the trails program, specifically the blues trail, cultural travel and outdoors and nature travel,” Seratt said. “There’s a great deal of cooperation statewide to support tourism in Mississippi.”
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