What’s next for Natchez tourism?

Published 6:28 pm Thursday, May 6, 2021

First, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has welcomed me into our community. I am honored and blessed to be part of our future in Natchez.

I am thrilled to begin to share a quarterly update and community directly with our community and stakeholders. Once a quarter, look forward to receiving an update from me as I share my outlook and updates on our tourism future.

As we emerge from the COVID pandemic or as I like to call it, the dreaded “C” days, tourism is growing exponentially, supported by a growing number of vaccinations in the region and the growing amount of visitors coming to our special city.

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It is time to reflect on what we’ve been through this past year but more importantly to plan for what we do in the future.

Our county and city governments took swift action to address the pandemic by implementing safety precautions to ensure our citizens and visitors were as safe as possible.

The mandates and restrictions weren’t easy but it was done with the intention to prevent the outbreak from getting worse.

Many of the community organizations implemented plans to support our community through the pandemic and to return us to recovery as quickly as possible.

Visit Natchez, led by my predecessor, Jennifer Ogden Combs, the Board of Commissioners and staff surged forward as well. They implemented initiatives to continue marketing Natchez to our of market visitors. NO one knew when this pandemic would be over but they knew that when visitors were ready to travel, Natchez would be top of mind.

The initiatives revolved around “Visit Natchez Responsibly” by demonstrating our precautions and the ability for visitors to experience our city safely. The results of their efforts proved successful with metrics showing growing interest and eclipsing many other destinations. I am proud of the work the team has done and thankful for their foresight to make those bold decisions.

Now, 14 months after the world seemed to shut down, tourism is rebounding significantly. Restaurants are working harder than ever to keep up with demand with many reporting better than ever sales. Hotels and bed and breakfasts are seeing numbers reminiscent of pre-“C” days. Attractions are seeing growth exceeding 120% and we are coming off one of the most successful Pilgrimages in recent memory.

So now what?

Now, we need to prepare for the future. First, visitors coming to Natchez or other destinations are looking for different things or have different requirements than they did before. We need to understand what our visitors are looking for and adjust to meet and exceed those expectations.

Secondly, with this knowledge and the knowledge that we are a diverse community with a diverse set of attractions, we need to create a Strategic Plan to address what Natchez represents in a single voice that communicates to a broad spectrum of visitors.

For these reasons, Visit Natchez will be contracting with a destination marketing expert to consult with us and our stakeholders in our community to help us create a unifying plan to attract new and repeat visitors at growing rates each year. We will call on members from all the various sectors in our community to take part in forums to create this path for us.

Thank you to everyone who kept Natchez moving forward this past year. Let’s pull together and make bold decisions again as we take our unique city past the “C” days and on to the next level.

Devin Heath is executive director of Visit Natchez.