Inviting the world
Collier-Wilson rolls out Jackson’s welcome mat
Wanda Collier-Wilson joined the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau as a receptionist during the agency’s third month of operation in the early 1980s. She was named president and CEO in 1998, becoming the first African American female to hold the position. She recently sat down with the Mississippi Business Journal to discuss the JCVB and its role in the Capital City.
Q — What’s usually the first question you get about Jackson from an out-of-state meeting planner?
A — Usually the first question from an out-of-state meeting planner is, “Why should I choose Jackson?” And after they visit Jackson, their question is simply answered. Jackson represents the purest form of hospitality because it comes from the heart and the soul of those who live here and the professionals who work in the tourism industry. The “City with Soul” is the perfect blend of the old and the new meshed together: you have the small-town feel in a big city where you don’t get lost in a huge crowd. We are a city rich in history, heritage, culture and have some of the finest dining you will every experience. Jackson has something for everyone to experience and enjoy, whether they are in town for a convention or simply to visit.
In fact, many first time visitors talk about how friendly people here are toward them, and that is a really important quality. We all know first impressions are the most important impression. Also, people comment about how easy it is to get around our city and how much they enjoy the eclectic elements of our city from the blues history to the dining experiences.
Q — How important is tourism to the City of Jackson?
A — Tourism strengthens the economic climate of Jackson by increasing new tax dollars contributed by visitors attending meetings, conventions, tradeshows, tours, special events and festivals and consumer travel.
In 2009 alone, tourism provided jobs for more than 20,876 citizens in Jackson with an annual payroll for Jackson’s tourism industry at approximately $400.8 million. We had 4.1 million visits come to our city, spending nearly $483 million at hotels, restaurants, attractions and other locations.
These numbers reflect the importance of travel and tourism to the state’s capital city. We are truly the cultural center of our state with over 200 unique restaurants, 40 hotels, 24 attractions and museums, nine professional performing arts entities and more than 100 festivals and special events.
You can look around Jackson and see firsthand why tourism is so important to our city. New construction and massive renovations are taking place in front of our very eyes as new hotels are being built, old hotels are being renovated, all thanks to the millions of private dollars from developers and owners. These individuals believe in the city and its future because of their personal and private investments.
Q — Please give our readers a brief history of the JCVB.
A — In 1983, the state Legislature established the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau. Our funding comes through the levying of a one percent sales tax upon hotels and motels and restaurants. The funds allow us to promote Jackson as a tourist, group tour, tradeshow and meeting destination. We are managed by a nine-member board of directors, who represent hotels, restaurants, attractions, businesses, arts community, education community and an at-large representative. This make-up provides a well-rounded and diverse group of individuals covering all aspects of our community and the industry.
Q — What is the mission and goals of the JCVB?
A — The mission of the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau is to attract, promote and facilitate tourism for the City of Jackson.
Q — How has the construction of the Jackson Convention Complex transformed the city from your perspective?
A — The new Jackson Convention Complex has added much value to Jackson’s tourism market and is a God-send in that it has brought many groups and individuals into our city. We finally have the space to accommodate events and conventions that otherwise would have looked at other cities. The facility offers 330,000 square feet for conventions and meetings of any size. It can accommodate a small corporate group of 10 to a large meeting of over 2,500 delegates like the most recent Alpha Kappa Alpha Regional Meeting held in March 2010.
Those who have experienced an event there can testify how tech-savvy, modern and accommodating the facilities are to any group. We owe endless thanks to a lot of people for making the new Jackson Convention Complex a reality: to Mayor Harvey Johnson’s persistence in pushing for the Jackson Convention Complex; to the legislators for allowing the citizens the opportunity to vote for it; and, most importantly to the citizens of Jackson for believing enough in the future of Jackson and casting their votes in favor of it.
Q — How does the JCVB counter any negative perceptions about the Capital City?
A — Jackson has definitely experienced critics both inside and outside the city. We are not the only city with an image problem. Every city has an image problem if you ask the right people. With growth and progress, all cities deal with problems, which often times is twisted into an image problem.
Yes, Jackson has its naysayers. There are issues that we are facing as a growing metropolis, but we are tackling those issues daily. The naysayers are going to have to recognize that resources in our city have merged and are working together now better than ever in the history of Jackson. We are a positive progressive city, and I know that the revitalization of the downtown area and the first year success of the Jackson Convention Complex are excellent testimonies to this fact.
No perfect city exists. If the public chose cities based on image alone, no one would ever travel, and tourism would not be the number two or top industry in the United States. and we encourage not just our visitors but those who live here to be a part of it all.
Q — With downtown Jackson coming to life again with the advent of the JCC and King Edward Hotel, is the city making a legitimate comeback in your view?
A — Downtown Jackson is definitely the heart beat of the Capital City. Much excitement and activity is taking place in this area of the city. It’s great to be able to be a part of the renewal of the downtown area, but to also see that people are choosing to live, play and work in an area that has so much potential. We have a beautiful arts district, a hip and upcoming entertainment district with the Farish Street development and the museums and restaurants in downtown Jackson definitely offer everyone in the area something to experience and enjoy all year long.
Degree(s): Attended Mississippi State University
Hobbies/Interests: Reading, shopping and traveling
Favorite Restaurant: Any restaurant in Jackson, “They’re all good!”
Favorite Movie: “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”
Favorite Book: “A Time to Kill”
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