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Tourism is making a comeback in Natchez

While driving to work one morning this week, I spied something elusive, something we’ve been sorely missing here, something very valuable.

I almost made a U-ey right there on Canal Street.

There they were, walking hand in hand in front of Rosalie. Decked out in shorts, T-shirts and walking shoes. One had a camera strapped around his neck.

Tourists! Could it possibly be? Yes, that’s what they are! They are back! They’ve come home!

I should have made that U-turn and stopped and thanked them for being here. But with social distancing and all, and not wanting to scare the pair off, I didn’t.

But we should. We should go out of our way to welcome back and thank our visitors to Natchez when we see them. Of course, we should do so responsibly, but we should do it.

From what I understand, our visitors are returning home. Our bed and breakfast establishments are beginning to fill up again. A staffer at the Natchez Grand Hotel said that facility is routinely booked on Saturday nights now.

That’s wonderful news for our restaurant owners and small retailers. And what’s good for our restaurants and small retailers is good for the rest of us, too.

So many here don’t seem to understand the value tourists bring to our community.  Perhaps they don’t work somewhere frequented by tourists and don’t often come into contact with them. However, tourism is our city’s No. 1 industry, and by way of tax dollars, we all benefit from our visitors.

Natchez — before COVID and after — is home to some fine restaurants. John Parks, who along with his wife, Malan, own Pearl Street Pasta, Magnolia Grill and 100 Main, told me in April as he was working to put together a plan to reopen his restaurants, the pandemic has provided stark proof as to how much businesses here depend on tourist dollars. He said the number of restaurants in our city would not survive if all they had coming in were local dollars.

Here’s a bit more good news. These tourists are arriving by car. As opposed to tourists who visit Natchez via one of the river vessels who stop here during normal times, these tourists are much more mobile. They are on their own time schedule and can drive in town to wherever they want to go.

At least one downtown retailer has reported tourists visiting now are shopping and spending money with downtown retailers.

That does not mean tourists who arrive on riverboats are not valuable to Natchez. They most certainly are. They eat at our restaurants and visit historic homes and sites. And some of them shop downtown. The riverboat crews buy gas for their tour trucks and buses here and use our markets and pharmacies for their needs. They eat at our restaurants, too.

In short, things are looking up. If you see a tourist, please go out of your way to say hello and thank them for visiting Natchez. Do it from a responsible distance, of course, and while wearing a mask, but please take the time to say thanks.

As those at Visit Natchez like to remind us Natchezians, we are the face of tourism here. We need our tourists. Let’s give them a welcome and an experience that will make them want to come back.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com or by calling 601-445-3627.