Business owners, community leaders anticipate tourism study

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Ask a sampling of weekend tourists about their Natchez experience, and most will speak of the positive experiences. Still, all have recommendations of things they would like Natchez to do to become more user-friendly.

Harold May of Baton Rouge was surprised by the lack of activities for tourists downtown, adding &uot;we’re here to spend money, and there’s nothing to spend money on.&uot;

&uot;There’s a lot of beautiful buildings that are empty,&uot; said Betty Jo Ramirez, who was visiting Natchez with May. &uot;There’s no place where there’s a list of things to do, no calendar of events. And we were told … shops aren’t open on Sundays, which I found a little strange.&uot;

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&uot;There aren’t enough signs telling you where to go,&uot; said Aundrea Flynn of Baton Rouge, with husband Todd adding that Natchez needs to be advertised more aggressively. &uot;People need to know it’s worth it to come here,&uot; he said.

With that in mind, the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Council will unveil on Wednesday a consultant’s study of what Natchez could do to better attract tourists &045;&045; and to keep them coming back for more.

Tourists aren’t the only ones interested in the results of such a study. Business owners and community leaders said this week they hope to hear new and innovative ideas about how Natchez can use its tourism marketing dollars most effectively.

&uot;I’m sure (Barash) will suggest businesses open on Sundays,&uot; said Joe Downs, manager of Fat Mama’s Tamales.

&uot;But I’m also looking for what the community as a whole can do to help attract tourists, … maybe suggestions for cooperative advertising. Every business could give a little bit&uot; to help fund such advertising, Downs said.

&uot;I want to see what (Barash) thinks we can do to better market ourselves,&uot; said Elaine Daniels, owner of Daniels Basketry.

She would also like to see the issue of the city’s inventory tax addressed. The more items shops can stock without such &uot;a handicapping tax,&uot; she said, the more money tourists will spend and the more sales tax the city will bring in.

For his part, Mayor Phillip West isn’t dwelling too much on specific things he would like from the study until he hears Barash’s recommendations.

Still, he said, &uot;hopefully will provide us with information with don’t already have on … attracting people to our area. Any information that would help us in decision making would be helpful.&uot;

Tourism Director Walter Tipton was a little more specific. &uot;I’d be interested to see (Barash) prioritize the attractions we have in Natchez … and how we’d apply our resources to marketing those attractions.

&uot;I’d like him to compare our area to others in terms of our (tourism) strengths and weaknesses … and say how to best spend our resources given the competition.&uot;

Tammi Mullins, executive director of the Natchez Downtown Development Association, said most who interact with tourists on a regular basis already know what they need to do to keep folks coming back to Natchez.

&uot;We need more attractions, … more things to do. And we need more access to the river,&uot; because the Mississippi River defines Natchez to a large extent, Mullins said.

But Mullins said she hopes bringing an outside consultant such as Barash in &uot;might help get people excited (about boosting tourism). I hope he can bring energy and ideas to the table.&uot;

&uot;We know what we need to do,&uot; Mullins said. &uot;It’s just a matter of getting everyone to cooperate.&uot;

Meanwhile, Daniels said, there are things every Natchezian can do to help keep tourists coming back &045;&045; things such as picking up trash on sidewalks.

&uot;If you see grass growing in the sidewalk cracks, bend down and grab a handful,&uot; Daniels said. Talk Natchez up, not down, in front of tourists and be friendly to them, she said &045;&045; for as tourism goes, so goes the area’s economy to a large extent.

&uot;We depend on tourists,&uot; said Daniels who, like Downs, plans to attend Wednesday’s meeting. &uot;So we need to treat them as respected guests.&uot;