Marketing money will go a long way

Published 12:25 am Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In response to a recent letter published in The Democrat concerning our tourism industry. Our current tourism tax structure is managed by a six member commission with a budget. This commission meets monthly and their meetings are open to the public.

An annual audit is prepared by an accounting firm as required by the legislation that created the agency.

One third of the current tax collected is used for debt service on the Convention Center, Community Center and improvements in the City Auditorium. This was provided for in 1999. Prior to 1999 this one third of these funds was used to create infrastructure for the National Park Service to create a separate park service presence in Natchez.

Email newsletter signup

The benefits of the Natchez Convention Center, Community Center and City Auditorium should be obvious. Currently we host over 45,000 people per year at the convention center alone. One could argue that a percentage of this business is local and it is, but we have a good mix of business.

Countless examples exist of events in which our convention center has benefited our community. One example is the one week in September of 2005 when we assisted the Red Cross in disbursing over $13,000,000 in aid to over 11,000 evacuees from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans area. Clearly most of this money was spent almost immediately in this area (our retail sales support this statement).

I can write about the Episcopal Diocese, Department of Education, Nurses Association or last week’s Literary and Cinema Celebration, but I hope you get the point — this facility is needed and used.

It is hard to believe that you would need to support the benefits of having a separate National Park associated with a historical town like Natchez. All you need to do is tour Melrose or see the William Johnson House or know the future plans for the area along the Mississippi River at Canal Street.

I would think that one third of theses funds have been addressed above. Of the remaining funds, the commission uses a portion to have a presence at the Visitor Reception Center. This facility is one of the best in the country for the services it provides. It is a partnership between the federal government represented by the National Park Service, the state government represented by the State Welcome Center and the City of Natchez. Over 200,000 people per year use our Visitor Reception Center.

The commission uses part of its funds to host events like the opening of the last section of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This event brought about 1,000 people to Natchez including Sen. Thad Cochran and the Superintendent of the National Park Service, among others. May of 2005 was one of our most visited months.

The commission responds to visitor inquiries daily and sends information packets in response to requests. In 2006 the Commission assisted in creating and designating 100 miles of U.S. 61 as a National Scenic Byway — the first in the state other than the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Natchez Convention Promotion Commission commonly known as the Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) is as knowledgeable and active as any comparable CVB with the resources it has available. By creating new marketing funds we are not trying to “throw money at a problem.” We are supporting an industry that is currently bringing over $130,000,000 in new developments in the form of four new hotels, two casino’s, and a trails project just to site a few known projects.

People are always asking for leadership and vision. It is always easy to ask questions, say no, and do nothing. Let me ask a few questions:

When was the last time a clean industry invested $130,000,000 in Natchez? When was the last time someone built 130 parking spaces in Downtown Natchez?

How many 500-plus out-of-town conferences have you brought to Natchez?

Some people get it and some don’t, but between the Conference Center and Riverfront Development in Vidalia and the Conference Center and Riverfront Development in Natchez we have a bright future.

It’s really simple, if Tupelo has $1,000,000 to advertise with and Natchez only has $100,000 who do you think is going to attract more visitors?

Walter Tipton is a Natchez resident.