Tourism group seeks info

Published 12:22 am Sunday, December 14, 2008

Natchez — Tourism industry leaders circled their wagons last week and put their collective heads together to dodge the arrows of a sluggish economy.

Kick starting tourism was the subject most discussed Monday at the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Council meeting.

“We are in an emergency state. It’s serious,” said René Adams, executive director at Monmouth Plantation. “As long as I’ve been in (the tourism industry), I don’t think it’s ever been like this.”

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Adams said she feared that substantial layoffs are eminent in a number of local tourism-based businesses if something doesn’t change soon.

Representatives from several hotels and bed and breakfasts were in attendance and each lamented horrible occupancy numbers this month and January looks much worse, several said.

“If we don’t do something in this room to shake people up, we’re going to be hurting,” Adams said. “We could probably do something to avoid it if we work together.”

The discussion quickly turned to the tourism marketing efforts of the Natchez Convention and Visitor Bureau, in particular what’s being done with the $2 lodging tax levied earlier this year.

The tax was earmarked for additional tourism marketing.

Several of the dozen or so people at Monday’s meeting were concerned that they have not received reports from the CVB on what’s being spent on marketing.

“I think some concerns are that we haven’t seen a plan that says, ‘This is where we are; this is where we’re going,’” said Debbie Hudson, president and CEO of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce.

CVB medial liaison Sally Durkin, who was the only CVB representative at the meeting, said the tax revenues had come in significantly less than projected so the CVB has had to scale back its marketing plans.

“We’ve got to revisit the budget. It was conservative (at first); now it’s erroneous,” Durkin said.

CVB Director of Tourism Connie Taunton said Tuesday that with only two months of collections from the new $2 per room hotel tax in the bank, the numbers are already lower than originally expected.

“We’ve received two checks and we’re about $17,000 below projections,” Taunton said.

Despite the reductions in anticipated revenue, Taunton said the CVB is trying to get the most bang for its buck by advertising regionally in a number of magazines from Southern Living to several convention-targeted publications such “Medical Meetings.”

In addition, Taunton said the CVB is advertising Natchez on Web sites such as, and, and Internet advertising is something the CVB had never been able to do previously.

Because of uncertain collections for the rest of the year on the hotel taxes, Taunton said the CVB is avoiding long-term marketing contracts.

“We just don’t want to get overextended,” she said.

Taunton said the CVB has a meeting planned early this week to meet with the Natchez Tourism Advisory Committee to discuss the marketing budget.

Taunton said concerns over how marketing money is spent are relatively common.

“Every city has those problems, a lot of it too could be better understood if everyone came to our board meetings … we go over our marketing and our sales on our board meeting days.”

The next CVB meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center conference room.

Adams said she welcomes the chance for everyone to get on the same page with tourism marketing.

“If we give it 100 percent, we’re going to get results. Every entity needs to work together,” she said.

Tourism Council Chairman Baxter Lee with the Grand Soleil Hotel agreed.

“For all of our futures to be bright, we’ve got to have a collaborative effort,” he said.