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Diversity in tourism discussed by local stakeholders

NATCHEZ — On Wednesday, a group of stakeholders in Natchez tourism gathered at the Natchez Convention Center to discuss ways to diversify the city’s appeal to tourists.

Wednesday’s meeting followed one last week of community activists Rita Givens and Janice Davis with Donna Sessions, president of the Natchez Garden Club, and Eugenie Cates, president of the Pilgrimage Garden Club. That first meeting set the wheels in motion for organizing a tourism committee to address issues here, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said.

“The idea is to get everyone together who have expressed an interest in Natchez as it relates to tourism and as it relates to diversity in our tourism,” Gibson said.

In recent years, both garden clubs have revamped their portrayal of Natchez’s history and have added more components of African American history to tours.

Attendees to Wednesday’s meeting said Natchez tourism needs more diversity.

“What we’re needing now is inclusion,” Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said. “For so long, the Black community has been left out and it’s good that we’re getting together now. The problem that we’ve had in city government for so long is that we’ve failed to plan for the future and now we’re moving forward. This meeting is good but if we don’t take action, it’s all for nothing.”

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving said she’d like to identify lesser-known historic sites relevant to African American history and the Civil Rights Movement and erect more markers and trail guides that point visitors to them.

Two years ago, Visit Natchez printed a full brochure curated by the National Park Service, which listed African American historical sites, said Jennifer Ogden Combs, executive director of Visit Natchez, said.

The brochure could be re-printed and new sites could be added to the list, she said.

“Visitors want authentic experiences of the culture and the people — food, music, history, architecture, the river… They want the experience and part of the experience is the stories,” Combs said. “… They want to experience and feel something and don’t want to be talked at anymore. … This meeting is the first step before we can begin to figure out what comes next.”

Other attendees to Wednesday’s meeting included Jeremy Houston and Bryan McKnight of Miss-Lou Heritage Group & Tours, Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond, Jarita Frazier-King of Natchez Heritage School of Cooking, Linda Smith of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, Natchez Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Deborah Cosey of Concord Quarters, members of the garden clubs and other tourism stakeholders.

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