Consultant: City should focus on low tourism months of year
NATCHEZ — When spring or hot-air balloons are in the air, Natchez hotel rooms nearly fill themselves.
For four months out of the year — March, April, May and October — hotels fill up and see their highest occupancy, tourism consultant Berkeley Young said.
The city, Young said, has no problem attracting visitors to big events such as Spring Pilgrimage in March and April or the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race in October.
But when the hoop skirts and hot-air balloons are put away and visitors go home, the challenge to attract visitors and fill hotel rooms during the slow parts of the year begins.
“The drive in Natchez should be to build up the other, slower parts of the year,” Young said. “We need to level it out and get things consistent, so we have good, steady visitation year-round.”
Young made that suggestion as one part of a strategic plan his company presented to the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau and tourism professionals. Young’s company, Young Strategies, was hired by the CVB to conduct tourism research and develop the plan.
The benefit of constant visitation throughout the year would be seen by all businesses that profit from the tourism industry, especially hotels, Young said.
Natchez Grand Hotel and Natchez Convention Center General Manager Walter Tipton said the hotel cuts hours back for about a quarter of its staff during lean times of the year, such as December and January.
Tipton likens the situation to farmers laying off laborers during winter months.
“You have the same sort of situation in the hotel business,” he said. “The real difficult part about a hotel is that you get slow right before Christmas and New Year’s when (employees) need the money the most, when their utility bills are the highest and they need money for (Christmas) presents. It’s always a real challenge for the hotel business.”
The convention center, Tipton said, tries to offset that by recruiting conventions and meetings that will bring visitors to Natchez for overnight stays during those times.
Tipton said he believes promoting Natchez’s slower times of the year is one of the key points of Young’s strategic plan.
Doing so, Young said, will take a partnership between the hotels and CVB to see what events or promotions can be planned and how the CVB can promote them.
January and February are months Natchez should focus on building up, Young said.
“December is the busiest month of the year for people with Christmas, and many people want to be at home with their families,” he said. “There is more room for growth in January and February. The holidays are over and a lot of people have cabin fever and want to get out and do something.”
Increasing hotel occupancy in slower times would level out business for hotels, as well as potentially drive up demand for new hotels, Young said.
“We have to get all these other months up first,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of room to fill up the hotels that you have now, and then the market will take care of itself.
“I think Natchez is an amazing place, and you’re going to be able to drive a lot of new interest and new demand.”