Natchez tourism community needs to work together

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2016

If the tourism industry in Natchez were a family — and it should be — it’s time for an intervention and the start of some therapy.

Dysfunction and division seem to go so hand in hand with tourism in Natchez that it’s often become a bit of a joke, so much so that members of the family often poke a little fun at themselves.

It’s almost as if folks say, “Well, you know how Mama is,” as the dysfunction becomes publicly evident.

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Lately though it seems Mama Tourism isn’t just a little quirky, she’s outright certifiable.

Sadly, our dysfunction isn’t hidden in the privacy of our own house; it’s front and center of a crowded store.

Natchez is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year and perhaps it’s fitting that some tourism folks and some of the city’s leadership seem at odds. Feuding is, after all, at the very roots of our history. You’ll recall the French and the Natchez Indians got along well — until they didn’t.

The same thing seems to go for tourism.

Just after personnel issues, questionable spending and massive miscommunication led to the ouster of the city’s tourism director and the entire convention and promotion commission, now the squabbling continues.

The latest dispute stems from questions over the management of the Natchez Convention Center. Like many things related to Natchez city government over the last several years, much is lost in the details of the deal.

The city contracts with a New Orleans tourism management firm led by New Orleans hotelier Warren Reuther Jr.

A group of critics of the arrangement popped up last week and have suggested the management company is unfair in spreading around the love — dollars — from business that comes to the Natchez Convention Center.

The Natchez Hotel, B&B and Dining Group, an invitation only organization, is holding two educational meetings to discuss their concerns.

The two main thrusts of their gripes seems to focus on seeking involvement and transparency in the appointment of Natchez Convention Promotion Commission members and on understanding details of the city’s agreement with Reuther’s management company.

The group believes the convention center managers are purposely steering business to their own hotel, the Natchez Grand Hotel.

The group’s concerns were clearly not all that welcome by the city, or at least the mayor last week, who attempted to stifle the group at the board of aldermen meeting.

Such a reaction to a critic is childish and simply further feeds the sense of not being at the table and involved as several of the businesses included suggested.

Reuther publicly expresses that he and his business have nothing to hide and refutes the belief that other hotels and restaurants are not included by the convention center’s sales efforts. Reuther and his wife, Nancy, clearly have much invested in Natchez. In addition to the Grand Hotel, they also purchased Monmouth Historic Inn a few years back when the property was struggling and on the brink of closure.

Reuther is quick to say, “If anyone has a question about our work with the city, call me and let’s talk about” even doling out his personal cell phone number.

One has to wonder if the problem is mostly one of perception or if it’s real. He’s an outsider and Natchez is quick to accept outsiders — until they dare suggest our ways might be improved by change.

The perception is Reuther and the convention center are printing money while others in tourism are struggling — or so the group seems to indicate.

But that doesn’t seem completely plausible, at least from this admittedly non-tourism outsider’s perspective. Some of our downtown restaurants look pretty prosperous, and I’ve seen a pile of obvious convention goers trekking down Canal Street to hotels other than the Grand.

Perhaps the family therapy intervention is long overdue. Why can’t all of the concerned parties meet together — on neutral ground or even at the city-owned convention center — with a third-party mediator to work through the issues — real or perceived?

Natchez’s tourism efforts could rise to another level that would benefit all, but only if we’re all working together as a family, not as rivals.


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