CVB hears yearly report; conventions up

Published 12:26 am Friday, March 20, 2009

NATCHEZ — Warren Reuther Jr. believes an annual report is good business practice for all.

So on Thursday, Reuther stood before the Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission Board members to give a yearly report on the Natchez Convention Center.

Reuther, the president of New Orleans Hotel Consultants, which has a management contract that oversees the operations of the Natchez Convention Center, said the number of bookings at the convention center, as well as the number of people attending the conferences, are both on the rise.

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Reuther reported that 32 events were held at the convention center in 2008, with 12,115 people attending. That was up from 9,735 people attending 32 events at the convention center in 2007.

So far in 2009, the convention center has hosted 40 events with 13,740 people in attendance.

Reuther said the increase in bookings and attendees led to a 9.2 percent increase in tourism tax receipts in 2008. The total receipts were $1,018,972 in 2008. That is an increase of over $85,000 from 2007, when tourism tax receipts were $933,171.

Because of the increase in bookings, Reuther said his company was eligible for a $60,000 incentive bonus.

“I haven’t taken any money,” he said. “Instead, I’ve given it back to the convention center for upgrades.”

Some of the recent upgrades to the convention center include the installation of new signage, purchasing of 250 additional place settings, upgrading the computer system for some staff, adding ATM access and a vending machine, renovation of office space on Main Street and sales trips to Jackson and Baton Rouge.

Reuther said the trip to Jackson netted two conference bookings, and five other associations have shown interest because of the sales meetings.

“No other city in the state of Mississippi has put anything like this together,” Reuther said of the contingency that traveled to Jackson to recruit. “Basicallly, people aren’t calling on them.”

A billboard in Flowood has also increased interest in Natchez, Reuther said.

Reuther said additional improvements planned for the convention center include the installation of sign that would include a reader board to publicize events coming to the convention center.

In other business:

Connie Taunton, tourism director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, gave a report on tourism tax collections from January. Taunton said room revenue was down 26 percent and restaurant revenue was down 3 percent.

Taunton said she didn’t expect to see such a significant drop because of the number of people who were in town for conferences in January.

“The numbers didn’t seem to add up so I called the state tax commission,” she said.

“I found out from them that we have some accounts that are delinquent.”

Taunton said some hotels have not made payments to the State Tax Commission, resulting in Natchez not receiving as much revenue. She said the commission would not release the names of the properties that have failed to pay the tax.

The State Tax Commission gives businesses 90 days to make their accounts current.

Taunton said the projected receipts were $52,517.29, but the actual amount collected was $44,719.70.

Taunton also said the $2 room tax collections were lower than expected. The taxes brought in $131,855 in January.

The board also voted to elect officers in June who will serve a one-year term.