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Convention centers across state throw open doors

The economy is shaky and casino business – a major player in tourism – is down. So, how are meetings and conventions – another important part of tourism – faring? Three of Mississippi’s most popular places for meetings and conventions – the Gulf Coast, Jackson and Natchez – say business is good.

“Our convention and meeting business in Natchez has been up over the past several months,” said Lynsey Smith, director of sales for the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau, “and our outlook for the rest of the summer is good.”

The river city, however, has added a new approach to its marketing methods. In April, the Natchez CVB established a sales and marketing office in the Jackson-Ridgeland area. “We have an experienced sales and meeting planner who represents us in the capital city area,” Smith said. “We also have a new director of sales at the CVB who has previous sales experience in both the Mississippi and Louisiana markets.”

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Jackson Convention Complex

Although Natchez hosts conventions of all sizes, its largest sit-down indoor venue seats 1,200 people. A new Holiday Inn Express opened last week that will add to the city’s inventory of convention hotel rooms.

A few of the groups recently convening in Natchez include Mississippi E911 Operators, Mississippi Nurses Association, Mississippi National Guard, Mississippi Constables Association, Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Fire Fighters Association, Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association Directors Conference, Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth and the Louisiana Pharmacy Association.

Crystal Johnson, director of sales for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, reports that conventions have remained “pretty even” compared to last year. “This is based off conventions that have booked with the CVB or that we’ve provided convention services to during their conventions,” she said. “Summer looks good and is still our busiest time with people utilizing this time for a combined family vacation.”

The Coast is seeing groups with short-term bookings, and Johnson hopes this practice will change as the economy improves.

Looking ahead at marketing efforts, she said, “The sales department will be more focused on sales trips with one-on-one appointments. We are seeing a trend of tradeshows going to appointment-based programs where destinations and meeting planners can be matched prior to attending. This allows more qualified leads and relationship building.”

In Jackson, the number of conventions increased in the past months compared to last year and the trend is expected to continue through the end of the summer.

“Jackson has seen an influx of sporting and religious events that contribute to this increase,” said Marika Cackett, director of marketing and public relations for the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

A few of the groups meeting in Jackson recently or scheduled to meet this summer include the Civil War Trust, Watchtower Bible Tract Society of New York, United Methodist Church, Civil Rights Movement Commemoration Partnership 2013, American Healthtech, Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, the National Baptist Convention, The Color Run and Color Me Rad.

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