Natchez can help lead America’s economic rebound

Published 9:08 pm Friday, April 23, 2021

Since I arrived in Natchez, I have been talking about the Power of Travel and the impact our community has on tourism and the impact travel has on our personal lives.

Never has this message been as true as it is today, as we emerge from this most challenging year.

Travel’s ability to bounce back after periods of economic hardship — and inject much-needed revenue directly into Natchez’s economy — is why the theme of this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) is the Power of Travel.

NTTW, May 2 through 8, the 38th annual celebration of the U.S. travel industry’s contributions, is an opportunity to remind visitors and residents of the incredible value the travel industry holds not just for our local economy and workforce, but to our community’s identity and culture — and to remind policymakers of travel’s ability to help power recovery efforts.

Travel and tourism is such an important part of who we are as a community. We see our visitors enjoying their visits to our city on the bluff overlooking the most powerful river in the country.

We are also reminded how wonderful our city is as we read the reviews of our guests attending our festivals, eating in our restaurants or staying in our hotels and bed and breakfasts.

As we just finished one of the most successful Spring Pilgrimage’s in our history, we continue to feel the blessings of our tourism engine. Before the pandemic, tourism represented more than $108 million in revenue in Natchez. Nationally, travel generated $2.6 trillion in  economic output, supported 17 million American jobs and delivered a $51 billion trade surplus to the U.S. in 2019.

However, this vital revenue source stemming from business and leisure travelers was severely diminished amid the pandemic.

In 2020, the entire U.S. travel industry lost half a trillion dollars in travel-related spending — 10 times the economic impact of 9/11.

Nationally, total travel-supported jobs accounted for a staggering 65% of all U.S. jobs lost amid the pandemic.

In Natchez, we lost 480 jobs directly related to tourism last year. 

With such disparate losses, it is clear that a broader economic recovery hinges on a recovery within the travel industry. With the right measures in place, we can get people moving again in a safe and healthy way, restore our workforce and help power a broader economic recovery.

The travel industry needs sustained relief to ensure businesses can maintain operation and workers can stay on payrolls until sustained demand can truly take hold.

The road ahead is challenging, but the travel industry is resilient and has an incredible ability to bounce back from hard times. We recovered after 9/11, after the 2008 financial meltdown, and after health scares such as Zika, Ebola and SARS.

This is the toughest challenge the U.S. travel industry has ever faced, but we know travel is one of the best-equipped industries to lead a revival.

As we reemerge from this pandemic, I am excited about the opportunities in front of our community.

Our tourism future is bright, illuminated by our unique attractions, our welcoming citizens, authentic restaurants and the amazing experiences our visitors encounter. Now is the time for us to get back to work, providing quality job opportunities for people of all backgrounds, reconnecting family and friends, and showing the world what makes Natchez the best place to visit.

Devin Heath is executive director of Visit Natchez.