Natchez hopes to double efforts with proposed tourism funding

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

(Illustration by Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat)

(Illustration by Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Natchez tourism officials say a statewide effort to increase tourism funding will help double their efforts to showcase the area as a top tourism destination.

Ahead of the start of the new legislative session in January, Gov. Phil Bryant released a budget recommendation that includes an additional $5.1 million to advertise the state’s tourism amenities.

Part of the funding increase would be used to provide matching grants to local tourism agencies, such as the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, and allow for an overall increase in the amount spent advertising Mississippi’s tourism sites.

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The matching grant program, Natchez CVB Director Kevin Kirby said, would allow Natchez to effectively double its marketing and advertising capabilities.

“If you were going to spend $3,000 before, but now it turns out you’ll be getting $1,500 matched then you can take that other $1,500 you were going to spend and structure that to help you in other places,” Kirby said. “That’s so important these days because we have to be very flexible and have different layers of strategy ready to implement at any moment.”

Kirby said the model for marketing a city, town or area have changed dramatically in the last decade through the emerging use of social media and other technological forms of marketing that compete against traditional media.

“Back in the day, we would put out a full year plan ahead of time and of course you would have a theoretical back-up plan in case something didn’t work, but that first one was pretty much signed, sealed and delivered,” Kirby said. “With these new strategies, you have to be prepared to change or make a move at any time.

“We know as a state, we’ve had windows of opportunity to drive tourism, and we’ve missed them because of a lack of funding opportunities.”

Knowing the state would be available to provide matching funds, Kirby said, could go a long way to ensuring Natchez is well represented in the efforts to attract national and international visitors.

“We are part of the cry for support for state funding because we all need it,” Kirby said. “We’re doing a lot of things in stride in supporting the state’s efforts, while at the same time making sure that Natchez is orchestrated with what’s going on at the state level.

“They’re the branding agent, and we have to create the Natchez brand that then becomes the overall picture of what’s available in this great state.”

The increased funding efforts tied to promoting the Magnolia State, which need legislative approval, would still put Mississippi behind most neighboring states for tourism marketing.

Currently, the state spends $3 million annually on tourism advertising, which is the lowest in the nation, according to Mississippi Tourism Director Malcolm White.