Looking ahead for Natchez tourism

Published 11:57 pm Sunday, January 21, 2018

The beginning of a new year is an exciting time, a time of reflection on the past year and a time of preparing and looking forward to what’s to come.  It’s an opportunity to look at how the decisions and choices we made in the last year served us well, and where we need to “course correct,” as one of my mentors in the film industry always said.

There was a lot of change in 2017 for Visit Natchez and for tourism as well.  We celebrated the end of a record-setting, award-winning tricentennial year as 2016 wound to a close.  2017 saw Visit Natchez offering two tourism summits created to engage not just our tourism partners, but equally important, our entire community.  We welcomed a fantastic new Natchez Convention Promotion Commission (NCPC), our board, committed to clarity and transparency, and making sure they —– and we — are spending the tax dollars that fund Visit Natchez and the marketing of our community effectively,  appropriately, honestly, and fairly.  I had the honor of being asked to serve as the permanent director of Visit Natchez and the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission, a job I had not intended to do, but as life would have it, it was the perfect time and fit.  We lost one of the great ladies of not only our board, but our community, Judge Mary Lee Toles.  On the positive site, we plan to launch a new, simplified and mobile-optimized website in February along with a beautiful new Visitors Guide for 2018!  There’s much to be thankful for, and much work to be done.

That finds us to today.  Where do we go from here?  Without a doubt, Natchez has some of the finest, and most unique tourism offerings anywhere in the country, perhaps the world!   But it is vital to the health of our industry that we are relevant and meaningful to today’s visitor — whether a couple like the one I met today during our snow event who came from North Dakota to visit our historic sites (and get their National Park Service Passport stamped) or the 650 kids (and their families) who come here every December for the Mississippi Bandmasters Association.  They, and many, many more, make tourism the most important part of our economy, currently.

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In this 21st century, tourism is more competitive than ever, the internet has created a world where we can literally from the comfort of our bed on this snowy day, look for a place we would like to visit, where we can EXPERIENCE something we may never have before.  Today’s visitors want to experience a place in an authentic way — from all the senses to all the stories to be found there.

And that brings us to Feb. 1, 2018.

As part of our ongoing education series, VisitNatchez and the NCPC is partnering with Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond to present a free program “Creating New Tourism Experiences”.   We have to ask ourselves – how ready is Natchez for the competitive tourism world of the 21st century?  Do we mainly provide “show and tell” tours of our magnificent historic houses or are we making full use of our contemporary community assets to package one-of-a kind experiences that will drive people straight to social media to promote the Natchez brand?  Staying on top of today’s tourism market demands innovation to drive visitation and economic develop, increase length of stay, spending, and repeat visits, and ultimately, create “tourism ambassadors” for Natchez.

Please join us on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Natchez Visitor Center for a fascinating presentation where Kathleen will share ideas and tips learned from her recent “experiential” training with nationally-renowned tourism expert, Joe Veneto.   There will be a brief reception at 5 p.m. followed by the program at 5:30 p.m.  We encourage everyone to attend, particularly tourism partners, and anyone interested in looking at how we can all help move our tourism offerings forward!  We plan to follow up with a brainstorming session about applying the ideas we discuss to the tourist resources we have here in Natchez.

Not only do we have such a unique, special city with a vast history to share, we have remarkable people willing to work toward a better future for us all.  Won’t you join us for this exciting conversation!  For more information, please call Visit Natchez at 601-446-6345.
Jennifer Ogden Combs is the executive director of the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau.