Does tourism need a little innovation?

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 10, 2011

Natchez’s tourism industry seems to be in need of a little innovation and perhaps a little research and development, at least from this layman’s viewpoint.

Folks who truly thrive in business will tell you that their businesses constantly innovate. It’s perhaps among the most difficult — yet most rewarding — thing for many of us to do.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the mundane grind of business or just daily life that it can become difficult to devote the time to things that in some ways may not seem broken.

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We’re all guilty of it. We often do things “just because we’ve always done it that way.”

I wonder how often we all get caught up in that mindset and forget that our work and our lives need constant pruning and weeding and attention.

Last week while driving to work I noticed large pallets of clay tiles next to the former railroad depot on Canal Street. The depot has been turned into luxury condominiums.

The tiles had replaced the usual familiar morning site of horse carriages and a driver or two awaiting tourists.

A small sign instead directed tourists to visit the bluff, where the carriages had been temporarily relocated while the roof on the depot is being replaced.

I’m sure someone else has already thought of this, but why not make the bluff, or perhaps somewhere near the other former train depot — located at the trailhead of the Natchez Trails Project — a new home for the carriage drivers?

Beyond that, though, another thought struck me. Could we make the change part of a bigger effort to make the tourist industry in Natchez more effective and provide a greater experience for tourists?

Imagine for a second how cool it might be to have two carriage stops in Natchez, both of which run regular routes for a decent fare.

Natchez does a good job in directing all of our tourists to stop at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center at the foot of Canal Street, but once there they face a choice.

They must decide to either hop back in their cars to drive to some of the area’s sites or brave the weather on what is arguably a less than picturesque walk into downtown.

Many of the tourists — particularly ones who appear to be foreign — choose the hike. By the time they reach D.A. Biglane Street, they look beat, particularly in the summer.

Wouldn’t it be great if tourists were able to exit the visitor’s center and hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a trip into downtown?

I can imagine stops at the Natchez Trails trailhead, where other carriages could take visitors on the traditional downtown tour, or visitors could hop off and more easily explore the trails or downtown shops.

This may not work for some unforeseen reason. I am, after all, not a horse person.

My own knowledge of horses probably could be placed on a single piece of horse manure, carelessly dropped in a field. And some folks may say that’s exactly the value of my opinion, too.

I do, however, hope we’re thinking and innovating in the tourism industry in our community, always keeping our focus on improving the value of the experience we’re providing visitors. Without keeping their interest, the industry will dry up fast.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or