By BECKY GILLETTE
Conventions that bring hundreds or even thousands of people to town are in full swing in Mississippi bringing in visitors who have a major financial impact with spending for hotel rooms, gas, meals and visiting local attractions.
Some of the biggest conventions happening at the Jackson Convention Complex are related to religious events, said Shun Hatten, vice president of sales, Visit Jackson.
“Actually, the summer is pretty busy,” Hatten said. “We have a combination of the equine events at Mississippi Coliseum and Equine Center, and a lot of religious events taking place at the convention center. We had a huge Pentecostal conference in June with about 2,000 in attendance. We had a regional United Methodist Church Convention that had about 3,000 people in attendance. In addition to the church business, we have had events put on by the Quarter Horse Association and barrel racing.”
Jackson’s central location in the state is one draw. Hatten said it also helps that the city has affordable hotels, including near the Convention Complex, and the complex is large enough for big groups to have all their meetings in one location.
“In addition to convention business, we have seen our family reunion business grow,” Hatten said. “We attribute that to the Two Museums. A lot of families come in and take a day to see those museums. We are going into our second year with the Two Museums.”
Hatten said they also have a huge international presence in terms of groups visiting the city who want to learn not just about civil rights, but the history, culture and musical heritage of Mississippi.
Repeat business is a big factor with convention activity in Tunica, said Mary Catherine Webb, sales manager, Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. She said the summer convention business has stayed steady year after year because of groups that like it so much they come again and again.
“Tunica has continued to see a wide variety of conventions and events return to the area each summer in part due to the variety of venues offered in the market,” Webb said. “The Tunica Arena and Expo Center has welcomed back events ranging from an AKC Affiliated dog show to barrel racing and a Palomino Horse World Championship Show. Our casino resort properties have also continued to book what we call traditional meeting and convention business while also utilizing the larger venues for events such as the Jus Blues Music Awards and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.”
While leisure consumer visits drastically increase during the summer vacation months, Tunica casino resort properties report that the fall and winter months are when they really see an increase in meeting and convention bookings.
“Convention business is very important to our properties, as well as the local economy,” Webb said. “In a market like Tunica, you can absolutely see the impact that events at all of our venues have on local restaurants and hotels. Attendees at the different shows and conventions like to get out and try our local restaurants, and they stay for a number of days in our hotel rooms. All of this equals a major boost to our local business and economy as a whole. We strive to continue to offer the best service in Tunica so they book year after year.”
Vicksburg has seen a double digit increase in hospitality collections.
“Vicksburg hospitality collections are up 17 percent over collections this time a year ago,” said Laura Beth Strickland, deputy director, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We attribute that growth to the large amount of conventions and sports tournaments that Vicksburg is hosting. Vicksburg is a top destination in Mississippi and, with our increased amenities, has become a leader in the region, as well.”
The estimated economic impact of conventions in 2018 was estimated at $5.34 million with direct spending of $3.14 million and attendance of 53,947. From January through June, economic impact was estimated at $6.58 million with direct spending of $3.87 million.
The Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau also welcomes back many convention clients year after year.
“The Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau’s sales team is also focused on bringing new conferences to the city,” said Tupelo CVB Executive Director Neal McCoy said. “The BancorpSouth Conference Center will undergo a $15 million expansion in FY 2020, creating even greater space for meetings and conventions in Tupelo. TCVB measures success by hotel occupancy numbers and tourism tax collections. Based on these indicators, tourism is up in Tupelo.”
Year-to-date economic impact for meetings, conventions and sports groups booked by Coastal Mississippi is estimated at more than $9 million.
“Coastal Mississippi has such a vast array of phenomenal–and unexpected–things to do, see and experience, and the new brand truly reflects this destination’s outstanding assets,” said Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi. “On the Secret Coast, meeting planners will discover a unique, versatile region with the perfect combination of amenities and activities to suit all needs, along with a dedicated team of industry professionals at Coastal Mississippi who are eager to assist groups with the planning, promotion and management of a truly memorable experience.”
Segarra said their rebranding process has led to a shift in their value drivers as a premier meetings and conventions destination.
“As destination influencers, we are positioning ourselves amongst the leading destination marketing organizations to provide meeting planners with the highest quality service,” Segarra said. “As community connectors, we aim to connect clients with industry leaders and experts to provide unique opportunities in our community; as client vision advocates, we strive to ensure that a meeting planner’s vision and mission is not only understood, but executed to the fullest extent. As economic drivers, we are dedicated to raising local stakeholders’ awareness of the economic impact that the meetings and conventions industry has on our region.”
Some of the major events in Coastal Mississippi this summer include the Mississippi Department of Education METIS 2019, the Mississippi Education & Technology Innovation Symposium, the Annual National Bikers Roundup, and the Southern Regional Educational Service Agency- 2019 Making Connections Conference.
Coastal Mississippi has seen beach closures this year due to water quality problems caused by excess fresh water from Mississippi River flooding.
“As the region is situated along the Gulf of Mexico, natural occurrences that affect the water quality do take place,” Segarra said.
“Coastal Mississippi is taking every measure to protect its residents, visitors and natural resources in tandem with official state agencies. The safety of our visitors and residents is of the utmost importance. Therefore, we are dedicated to providing timely and accurate information to travelers. Our website provides visitors with links to up-to-date information on the status of Coastal Mississippi water and beaches from trusted sources. At this time, visitors can still enjoy fresh water and salt water opportunities that extend beyond the affected areas in the region, including kayaking, paddle boarding, excursions to barrier islands and fishing experiences.”
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