Wilson pitches importance of tourism to state

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Darienne Wilson has been in tourism for 20 years, but she began her career at the Natchez Eola Hotel.

Now the director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism development division, she still sees the value of the town where she got her start &045; and she sees how much tourism can aid the economy in a town where several industries have closed or are preparing to close.

&uot;Natchez has the most potential for tourism of any place in Mississippi,&uot; said Wilson, who spoke Friday at the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon..

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Natchez has greater name recognition than any other community in the state in terms of tourism, said Wilson, who peppered her remarks with anecdotes about her time working at the Eola.

&uot;Natchez is like Elvis,&uot; Wilson said. &uot;You don’t have to say ‘Mississippi,’ and people in tourism know exactly where you’re talking about. You have a product

&045; you have the most wonderful antebellum homes, you have Civil War history, you have a fabulous downtown.&uot;

Tourism is the second largest industry in Mississippi, attracting 35 million people to the state, most on &uot;weekend getaways,&uot; Wilson said. But that wasn’t always the case. A decade ago, the Mississippi Development Authority did not have a budget for tourism advertising.

Now, Mississippi spends about $6.4 million to promote tourism &045; but that compares to larger numbers such as $12 million in Louisiana and $10 million in Arkansas.

Tourism is important, Wilson said, because it makes money; it improves quality of life; and it changes the image of the state. In Natchez, she said, everyone needs to know how important tourism can be to the economy.

&uot;I know you’ve lost some jobs,&uot; she said. &uot;I know you’ve taken some hits. I know tourism isn’t the only answer but it is one avenue, and it can make a difference.&uot;