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State tourism group plans to lobby for funding

NATCHEZ — State tourism officials and lobbyists said Tuesday they will seek more funding in the next year for Mississippi’s state tourism office and advertising efforts, and will lobby to further open the state to the film industry.

The Mississippi Tourism Association had its Capital River Region regional meeting in Natchez Tuesday to discuss the benefits of tourism and future strategies for the industry.

MTA Executive Director Rochelle Hicks said the group would lobby for the legislature to dedicate funding to the state tourism office.

“We have a lot of great states around us that we have to compete with, and we have a definite need for funding dollars,” she said.

Tourism in Mississippi produces $390 million annually, approximately 8.1 percent of the state general fund, Hicks said.

For every dollar spent in advertising for Mississippi tourism, the state receives five in return, said Sandy Bynum, bureau manager of the communications and advertising bureau of the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism division.

Currently, the division has $1.8 million to invest, she said.

“The states around us have $25 million more to invest in advertising over Mississippi,” Bynum said. “To be very competitive we need to do better, and we can.”

Ward Emling, the manager for the MDA’s tourism division’s film and tourism development bureau, said some legislative efforts for the tourism industry will be to provide incentives to bring more film work to the state.

“We have a good incentive program, but unfortunately the place across the river has some advantages over us,” he said. “We will try to address that in the legislature.”

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, who last legislative session authored a bill on behalf of the tourism industry that eliminated the three-day waiting period for marriage licenses in the state, said she has been in communication with Gulf Coast marketing groups to discuss tourism marketing, and pledged her support to the industry.

“Tourism is so huge to Natchez and to Mississippi,” Sojourner said. “I want to do everything I can to help you.”