Tourism consultant: CVB should sell Natchez

Published 12:12 am Friday, January 17, 2014

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau is spending too much time helping give the party and not enough time inviting people to it.

That was the overriding message tourism research consultant Berkeley Young delivered to the Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission and the Tourism Marketing Committee Thursday.

After an eight-month research study of the Natchez tourism market and the Natchez CVB, Young delivered his findings along with recommendations for a new strategic plan that will help bring more tourism dollars to the city.

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But before more tourists and their dollars come to Natchez, they must first be invited. Young said while some tourists are coming to Natchez, there is an untapped market that is not being invited.

That should be the primary responsibility of the CVB, Young said.

“The CVB needs to be focused on attracting people to come to Natchez and filling heads on beds,” Young said.

Currently, the city is not reaching its potential partly because the CVB is spending too much time facilitating and not enough time marketing, Young said. According to his research, the CVB is spending nearly two-thirds of its time facilitating events, while another third is spent bringing in tourists.

Young said CVB director Connie Taunton and her staff are spending their time helping run festivals, arranging for golf carts and performing many tasks that should be left to other community groups.

“The CVB has been getting yanked in a million directions,” Young said.

Mayor Butch Brown concurred.

“Invariably, every time there is an event, the CVB is involved in the production,” Brown said.

“That is not CVB’s job,” Young said. “The CVB’s job is to sell Natchez, not run it.”

The CVB needs to tell event organizers that “we will sell (your event) and get tourists here, but it is your job to take care of them when they get here,” Young said.

Cheryl Hargrove, a heritage and cultural tourism consultant for the project, said residents and organizations should pick up after the CVB brings tourists to town.

“Everybody should make sure the city is delivering on the promise,” Hargrove said. “The hospitality (that the CVB does now) has to be taken over by other entities.”

To address the problem, Young recommends that the CVB be restructured so it focuses more on getting people and their pocketbooks to Natchez.

Young also recommended the CVB spend time and resources focused on a year-round marketing plan.

According to Young’s research, Natchez experiences a dramatic drop-off of tourists from November to February.

“There is room for growth in the other months (of the year) outside of spring and summer,” Young said.

But Young cautioned trying to focus on the Christmas season. The holidays are the busiest time of the year for most people, and the number of tourists available to travel during that time of year is relatively low.

“How many people do you know have time to travel during Christmas?” Young said.

Instead Young recommended the city focus on January and February as prime marketing months, especially to retirees.

Young also recommended a marketing plan targeting tourists between the ages of 35 and 65.

“We want to focus on the people with the most cash in their pockets,” Young said.

While some cities focus on attracting children, Young recommended against that for Natchez, saying children are in school nine months out of the year and travel during the times of the year when the city is already doing a good job attracting tourists.

“You can spend a fortune on kids, but we need to focus on January and February,” Young said. “We need to go after adults without kids.”

Young said the good thing about Natchez is it has more assets and more places to market than most of the cities he has worked for.

Young said he has consulted for other towns where millions of dollars are needed. That is not the case for Natchez.

“All we need to do is reorganize the assets you have and we are off and running,” Young said.

The goal, Young said, is to take the product Natchez has and maximize the return on the investment for the city.

“Our goal is to make the most efficient, most productive (CVB) anywhere,” Young said.

Young made a second presentation Thursday evening at the Historic Natchez Foundation and will make a third and final presentation of his findings at 10 a.m. today in the City Council Chambers.