Tourism head: State must provide more marketing funds

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mississippi needs to update its tourism theme, expand its advertising area and spend more money to promote its beaches, antebellum homes, musical heritage and casinos.

That was the message Wednesday as Mississippi Development Authority leaders appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

MDA is seeking an additional $1.5 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s a 23 percent increase from the $6.4 million budgeted this year.

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Of that, $500,000 would go to tourism marketing efforts for Mississippi as a whole, according to Craig Ray, director of MDA’s Division of Tourism.

But some involved in tourism locally said any additional money MDA’s Tourism Division could get would be good news for Natchez, which depends heavily on marketing matching grants from MDA. That program has suffered from budget cuts in recent years.

The city’s tourism director, Walter Tipton, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Rene Adams, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee, said such money is tremendously needed for marketing of destinations and to help cooperative advertising efforts.

She knows what it means for Dunleith, where she works as assistant manager.

&uot;When the CVB’s funds for marketing are shortened, it shortens our ability&uot; to participate in cooperative advertising efforts,&uot; Adams said.

And Adams said putting more money into tourism marketing is an investment in the economy.

For every dollar put into tourism marketing, she said, &uot;you can see a $10 to $15 return on investment.&uot;

Ray also addressed other tourism-related issues before the committee Wednesday.

Mississippi’s state-sponsored tourism theme has been &uot;Feels like coming home,&uot; but Ray said it’s time to rethink the slogan.

Craig Ray, director of MDA’s division of tourism, said it’s time to rethink the slogan.

&uot;When you travel, you don’t always want to go home,&uot; he said to the chuckles of some lawmakers.

He said Mississippi has done most of its tourism advertising within a 500-mile radius, but the state needs to expand to a 750-mile area to include markets in Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Indianapolis.

During the budget hearing, MDA leaders played a promotional video that was shown recently at a southern tourism conference in Atlanta. It featured images of Mississippi’s lakes and rivers, casinos, golf courses and white-columned homes. It showed people cavorting at festivals and running in races, and featured images of literary greats William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and music stars Faith Hill, B.B. King and Elvis Presley.

Most of the tourists featured in the video were white.

Rep. George Flaggs, one of the black lawmakers who serves on the Budget Committee, said he has seen tourism films in the past that altogether ignored black consumers or achievements.

&uot;I think there’s a clear understanding to me that African-Americans in this state are so much more than music,&uot; Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said in an interview after Wednesday’s presentation.

He said the new video showed progress by featuring black Mississippians, such as members of the Mississippi Mass Choir.

Craig said the four neighboring states all spend more on tourism marketing than the $6.4 million being spent by Mississippi. According to MDA:

-Louisiana is spending $13.3 million.

-Alabama is spending $8.8 million.

-Tennessee is spending $8.3 million.

-Arkansas is spending $7.5 million.

In July, MDA awarded Mississippi’s tourism contract to Frontier Strategies, a Jackson-based public relations and marketing firm founded by two men who held key positions in Gov. Haley Barbour’s campaign last year.