Future of tourism discussed at summit

Published 12:17 am Wednesday, October 2, 2019

NATCHEZ — Approximately 50 people attended the 2020 Tourism Summit hosted at the Natchez Convention Center on Tuesday morning.

Jennifer Ogden Combs, the executive director of Visit Natchez and the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission, said the annual conference opens the door for local stakeholders to see what their tourism partners are doing and discuss the next steps for the tourist industry in Natchez.

“The reality is we are all Natchez tourism,” Combs said, “not just those of us who are here.”

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During the forum, representatives from the NCPC and Visit Natchez provided a year-end review and discussed future goals for the tourism economy in Natchez with guest speaker Richard Peterson, the president and CEO of U.S. Cultural & Heritage Marketing Council based in San Francisco.

Peterson offered a glimpse of ways other cities used various art mediums — sculptures, light shows, music, etc. — to steer visitors to cultural assets.

For Natchez, these assets could be historical structures like the antebellum houses, the bluff and downtown businesses, Peterson said.

Peterson said eight of 10 travelers nationwide travel to experience the local culture.

“They want the hands-on local experiences,” Peterson said, “ — music, dance, food festivals, sports and other forms of entertainment. … What could you do as a community to pull people to areas they should be visiting?”

Katie McCabe, the NCPC treasurer and secretary said approximately $800,198 in restaurant taxes and $493,478 in hotel taxes have been collected for the 2019 fiscal year over $818,771 in restaurant taxes and $548,290 in hotel taxes collected in 2018.

Approximately 6% of the $1.6 million budget is used to pay a tax incremental financing bond, 24% is paid to the Convention Center debt, 22% is used for marketing and 48% for operating expenses, McCabe said.

“These numbers are a direct reflection of our tourism partners,” McCabe said. “As you all do better, we do better. … That it is so important for us all to work together to increase these numbers.”

In the 2020 fiscal year, Combs said the NCPC projects approximately $1,651,900 in revenues over $1,679,888 in expenses. Combs said net assets left over from the 2019 fiscal year would be used to offset a $27,988 deficit.

“We ended this year in the black,” Combs said, “. … We still were able to use the assets that we came into the year with to make sure we started this year with a balanced budget.

“We feel very confident that this budget is not going to impact us being able to market, promote and sell with the same passion in the marketplace that we’ve had over the last three years. We have grown so much in what we’re doing with our outreach.”

Combs said Natchez is marketed through media relations as well as through digital ads and geofencing — a technique used post ads to a target audience based on the physical location where mobile devices are used.

“These are ways that we are using digital ways to reach the potential visitor,” Combs said.