CVB to be tourism central hub

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NATCHEZ — For Natchez’s tourism vehicle to run smoothly, the central hub needs good support.

That was the overriding message of a tourism unification meeting Monday.

Tourism officials met to discuss how best to steer tourism in Natchez.

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The consensus was for the office of tourism management, a division of the Natchez Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, to serve as the center of tourism, with the community and other organizations acting as support and advisory groups.

Groups participating in the discussion were the Natchez Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, Natchez Convention Center, the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce, along with hotel, bed and breakfast, restaurant and community representatives.

Regina Charboneau, co-founder of Christmas in Natchez, said Natchez tourism needs a strong driver before it can reach its full potential. She said that driver needs to be accountable to the taxpayers and citizens.

“It is so obvious who should be that hub,” she said. “It should be the CVB; it should be the mayor.

“I want a leader. I don’t want to lead tourism. We need a strong leader to lead us.”

Once a strong hub is defined, many other communication issues could be resolved, Rene Adams, co-chairman of the chamber of commerce tourism council said.

Currently many groups, including the Community Alliance and the tourism council, meet to keep community members and group members up-to-date on the community happenings and tourism events.

Adams said those groups would not cease to exist, but a more clear message could be delivered.

“When you get a good hub, you get rid of some of the meetings and the overlap,” she said.

But to make that happen, Connie Taunton, director of tourism for the CVB, said groups and individuals need to help the CVB reach its goals.

“The CVB can’t do everything without a good network of people and groups to feed it information,” Taunton said. “We need everyone’s help to implement a plan.”

One cog in that plan is creating a unified Internet presence for the tourism and events side of Natchez through either a single community calendar or a series of linked calendars, Sally Durkin, media liaison for the CVB, said.

Durkin said there needs to be a clean, clear and organized calendar for visitors to view and other information, including conferences and conventions, governmental meetings and strictly local events would need to appear on separate calendars.

A committee formed to create a master list of annual events and formulate ideas for grouping events and creating events to fill traditionally slow tourism months. That committee, headed by Charboneau, will work with Durkin and a separate calendar committee to create a usable format for a calendar of events.

Another committee charged with gathering information about the city’s attractions, restaurants and lodging options was also formed. The information that committee collects will be used to help train employees in the hospitality industry to assist visitors with questions.

A third group was formed to evaluate previous strategic plans created for the city. Three separate studies and plans were done in the 1990s. The committee, made up of Natchez Convention Center director Walter Tipton, Taunton and Natchezian Jennifer Odgen Combs, will use the previous reports as a knowledge base to develop a new tourism strategic plan.

Darrell White, director of the National Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture, said the steps taken to created a unified tourism vehicle were steps in the right direction.

“We had started of to think of our each individual piece of the puzzle as the only piece and didn’t share with the people and pieces beside them,” White said. “Now, we have started to look at Natchez as a puzzle that we all have a piece in.”