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No shortage of contenders for best five conventions in the state

What are the best five conventions in the state? There is no shortage of possible contenders. Walter Tipton, director, Natchez Convention Center, likes the Harley Davidson convention.

“Obviously, this attracts people who like to travel,” Tipton said. “Because of the nature of their conference, they also like to tour the area once they get here. It brings 300 to 800 folks to town. Obviously, they don’t come in campers. It fits all the great criteria of filling hotel rooms and sending a lot of business to local restaurants.”

The Harley folks have a conference in Mississippi each year. They were in Natchez in 2010 and have also convened on the Gulf Coast. This year they are meeting in Horn Lake, which has a new Harley dealership.

“Motorcycle travel is big,” Tipton said. “It is a great fit for our state with the Natchez Trace Parkway that covers a large part of the whole state. There are all kinds of ways for them to travel. We also have Highway 61 along the river which is now a national scenic byway.”

Tipton is also looking forward to a 2012 multi-state Master Gardeners Conference that will attract an estimated 500 people.

“That again is a great fit for our state because we have some very nice gardens and with the Extension Service out of Mississippi State and Alcorn, we have a lot of infrastructure to support that kind of group,” Tipton said.

Crystal Johnson, director of sales for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), nominates two association conventions for the best of the state. The Mississippi Municipal League meets on the Gulf Coast every June/July with approximately 3,000 attendees. The second is the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, which has met on the Gulf Coast in the past and will be holding its annual convention on the Coast in 2011, 2012 and 2013 with approximately 1,200 attendees and approximately 1,600 room nights.

“There are many, many, many other associations and conferences that have met on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and I wouldn’t say that one is ‘best’ over another one,” Johnson said. “But (these) have so much to offer when they are here.”

The Tennessee Motor Coach Convention held in Tunica in January was exceptional, said Anne Coggins, sales manager of meetings and conventions for the Tunica CVB. This was a buyer/seller market, as well as offering classes/seminars. Attendees were given a chance to do a Delta blues tour and other sightseeing.

“They enjoyed a ‘Taste of Tunica’ at the RiverPark one night and a dinner/dance at Bluesville one night,” Coggins said. “There was high praise from all attendees.”

Another Tunica highlight was the Tri-State Press Association in June 2010. The Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi Press Association met in Tunica with one of the largest turnouts to date. The central location made it convenient for all attendees.

“I visited some of the sessions and all were well attended,” Coggins said.

Two others she particularly likes are the South Central Manufactured Home Institute, a manufactured housing industry product show that has been coming to Tunica for 11 years, and the U.S. Postal Service Southern Officer’s Conference in July 2010.

Linda Elliff, director of sales, Tupelo CVB, said they like all conventions.

“It doesn’t matter what they are,” Elliff said. “But I think the Junior and Senior Beta Club conventions are particularly important to us and the state. These are high school students from around the state. The Beta Club helps develop our future leaders. There are between 2,000 to 2,500 for the Senior Beta Club and 2,500 to 3,000 for the Junior Beta Club. They met at our arena, and when they have free time they go to the Barnes Crossing Mall, eat at local restaurants, shop and just have a good time.”

Tupelo has been hosting the Beta Club conventions for five years now, and Elliff  hopes that Tupelo will be its permanent home.

The Jackson CVB has hosted many outstanding conferences in the past two years, and some stand out in particular because their footprint was felt all over the area, said Marika Cackett, communications and public relations manager for the Jackson CVB.

“The Alpha Kappa Regional Conference brought a large number of people from three states,” Cackett said. “They used multiple hotels. We had shuttles going all over the city. It was huge. The Get Motivated Convention brought in big name motivational speakers and had more than 5,000-plus people attending over two days. One cool thing about that one was a huge custom lunch show using almost every restaurant in the downtown area. Then there was the Mississippi Baptist Conference that brought in tons of different people. They had lots of events using many different resources of Jackson.”

Another exceptional meeting was the 100 Black Men National Conference, the first conference held in the Marriott Hotel. “The Marriott was finished that night, and the conference was the next morning,” Cackett said. “It was a huge conference.”

Sandy Bynum, bureau chief for the communications and advertising bureau of the Mississippi Development Authority, said “the best” convention depends on your special interests.

“It might be the Hollywood Vibe Convention to a group of young dancers, and to some it might be a small family reunion,” Bynum said. “In 2006, Mississippi illustrated its ability to provide the needs of a large prestigious meeting when Biloxi was host for the National Governor’s Association. The meeting drew over 1,200 attendees. And, last year the country’s very first, and largest, regional governor’s association, the Southern Governor Association, held its conference on the Coast.”

Bynum said Jackson and the Coast host the most and largest conventions. The next venues of greatest popularity are Tunica, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Vicksburg, Natchez and Meridian.

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