Riches: Natchez tourism succeeds ‘in spite of itself’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Working together for tourism makes sense in a community rich in attractions. Cooperation is what it took in Ashland, Ore., a city the same size as Natchez and profiled in the Sunday edition of The Democrat. &uot;People really began to understand what marketing was all about Š They rallied around the idea of taking ownership of their town,&uot; said Mary Pat Parker of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

In Ashland, as in Natchez, tourism is major to the economy. There, professional theaters provide the cultural draw; mountains and lakes, the recreational pull. In Natchez, history and architecture are central to tourism; but the mild climate and abundant wildlife also attract golfers, bikers, fishermen and hunters.

Ron Riches, who with his wife, Lani, owns the historic bed-and-breakfast inn Monmouth, agrees with Parker and says Natchez must catch up with what is happening in places such as Ashland.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;Tourism in Natchez has succeeded in spite of itself,&uot; Riches said. &uot;As a community we have mainly put our own self-interests, prejudices and petty power struggles before the best interests of the community as a whole.&uot;

With its successes, many of them impressive indeed, Natchez is far from reaching its potential. &uot;Today, without really trying, tourism provides over 2,300 jobs in our community,&uot; Riches said. &uot;What could we do if we really put together an organized effort to bring more tourists into our community?&uot;

Increased tourism can enhance Natchez’s quality of life, he said, providing more money, more jobs and better schools. &uot;And therefore more people will want to come to our community and open new companies,&uot; he said.

Riches has studied Natchez tourism in the 25 years he has owned a home here. He has been directly involved in founding and promoting the popular Great Mississippi River Balloon Race and the ever-growing Natchez Opera Festival, among other activities, both established to promote visitation.

&uot;What could we do if we really put together an organized effort to bring more tourists into our community,&uot; he said. &uot;I am not against trying for other industries. But if we increased tourism, these new industries, when we got them, would be the frosting on the cake.&uot;

His thoughts about tourism have led to a slogan that sums up his views, Riches said. &uot;It’s ‘consolidate, educate and create.’ We need to consolidate all tourism under one roof. We must educate our entire community on the importance of tourism to every single person in the community. And we must create new things for the visitor to do in our area.&uot;

Too many different groups promote Natchez, he said. &uot;We have too many organizations, offices and tour headquarters, each taking money that could be going to promoting the community around the country and the world. We need to hire a professional tourism director who will head our entire tourism effort.&uot;

Divisions in the community about tourism sometimes line up along racial lines, Riches said. &uot;I know that many of my African-American friends feel that tourism is the old homes and that old homes equal slavery. First, let me say that we are not just about old homes. We are a total wonderful community with a great history, great people, a great river and much more.&uot;

Riches said the time has come to accept that slavery was indeed a big part of our history and that we should not be afraid of it. &uot;My point is history is not always pretty, but it is our history and it is what we have overcome &045; hopefully to be better people. Let’s not be afraid to show history.&uot;

What’s more, he pointed out that tourism job opportunities are open to black and white. &uot;Monmouth alone has almost 50 employees,&uot; he said. &uot;And these jobs are equally spread between black and white and equally divided at all pay scales.&uot;

Indeed, tourism dollars already spread in numerous ways throughout Natchez. That spread can only increase as cooperation in marketing prevails and visitation numbers grow.

A new kind of tourism calls for new opportunities. &uot;We need new shops, new things for children to do and new events like the balloon race and the opera, which not only bring in visitors but are also exciting for us locals.&uot;

The resources are available. The community has the essentials, Riches said. &uot;We just need to work together as a team and we will succeed even beyond our imagination. So let us begin,&uot; he said.