NATCHEZ — Travel and tourism in 2021 brought $97,675,640 in revenue to Natchez-area businesses, making it solidly the city’s largest industry.
Additionally, about 1,400 jobs here, or 13.2% of the region’s total employment, are generated by travel and tourism. About $10,080,694 in state and local taxes are allocated to tourism in Natchez and Adams County, according to the Mississippi Tourism Economic Contribution Report.
Devin Heath and others at Visit Natchez recently shared this information and more with Natchez stakeholders at its annual summit, intended to provide the community with what the agency does, as well as get ideas and feedback from community members.
“Every year we do this summit, and I always want to make things bigger and better. I want it to be more meaningful for our partners, more meaningful for Visit Natchez, where we come away with ideas and contributions from the community “Heath said. “It’s not just Visit Natchez staff who are pouring out this information. It’s an exchange of ideas, an exchange of thoughts and comments, so we set ourselves aim to share where we’ve been and where we’re going, what Visit Natchez’s plans are as we move forward, and to get that feedback and feedback, whether we like it or not, whether there have negative points or not.
“We want to hear what the community has to say, their feedback on these plans and the trends they’re seeing. When I was on the other side of things in other markets, I wanted to know not only what was doing organization, but what were the trends she saw on the horizon. I wanted to see and understand what were those influences and factors that we were going to have to deal with in the coming year,” he said. he said, “And so, we’re trying to really pull those trends out and share them so that everyone, not just us, but everyone in the community can be prepared.”
Funding our destination marketing organization
Visit Natchez operates under the direction of the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission. Members include Chair and President Helen Moss Smith, Secretary/Treasurer Robbie Cade Furdge and Commissioners Barbara Bruce, Dana Wilson, Katie McCabe and Lance Harris.
Visit Natchez Executive Director Devin Heath works with five other people: Administrative Assistant Jawana Lowe, Sales Director Lynsey Gilbert, Marketing Manager Jessica Cauthen, Community and Programs Manager Sarah Sookraj and Cultural Heritage Tourism Roscoe Barnes III, Ph.D.
Visit Natchez is financed by three local taxes.
• A restaurant tax of 1.5%, which comes from the gross proceeds of sales of restaurants licensed to control alcoholic beverages on the premises, when the gross revenue of these businesses exceeds $100,000 per year.
• A 3% lodging tax, which comes from the gross proceeds of room rental sales at Natchez.
• A $2 per head bed tax, which is charged per day for each room occupied subject to the 3% assessment.
And in 2023, additional, one-time funding will be available through funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, called the Mississippi Tourism Recovery Fund.
“There were a lot of local and state level initiatives that were really supported by our elected officials,” Heath said. “State Senator Kelvin Butler was at our peak. He supports us enormously and we thanked him, as well as our other elected officials. We also had great support from our representatives Angela Cockerham, Robert Johnson and Sam Mims, who voted last session for House Bill 453, which sets aside $32 million for Mississippi to fund destination marketing organizations. like ours.
While all guidelines and stipulations are still being developed, Heath expects to receive $478,000 this fall for this fiscal year and more funding for the fiscal year ending in 2024, which should, in total, bring Additional $800,000 to Visit Natchez coffers.
“It’s not just about funding Visit Natchez,” he said. “Up to $50,000 will go to non-profit museums and up to $100,000 to Main Street charities. When you think of the various museums in Natchez, not just NAPAC and the Rhythm Nightclub Museum, but Magnolia Hall and Stanton Hall and Longwood… This can be very beneficial.
Travel and tourism agencies in Mississippi aren’t the only ones receiving extra funding to recover from the pandemic shutdown.
“Mississippi allocated $32 million to House Bill 453. To contrast that, other states allocated far more. Some have allocated as much as $178 million. All states with which we compete directly for travel and tourism, such as Texas, receive this funding. We’re going to be inundated with marketing messages from those states that we compete with,” Heath said. “Travel ads will flood the market.”
Trends and concentration
“While we love our day trippers and they are very, very important to us, we want to focus on our overnight visitors,” Heath said.
Data shows that those who stay overnight in Natchez spend nearly four times more in the market than leisure day trippers.
“Our challenge is how to turn our day trippers into overnight visitors. We really want to focus on growing those overnight visitors,” he said.
Hotel occupancy here is coming back and the average rate charged for hotel rooms here has gone up a bit, Heath said, partly because of inflation and partly because of demand.
“Revenge” trips are still going strong, he said.
“After COVID, after everyone was so shut down and couldn’t go anywhere and couldn’t do what they wanted to do, they’re coming back with a vengeance. We now have a new term – GOAT trips, which means the greatest of all trips. People are planning their greatest trip ever.
In order to get a share of the money spent on those GOAT trips, Heath said trip data will play a critical role.
“At the time, we only knew of a person what they signed on the hotel registers. Today we can really dive into travel information. Thanks to smart phones, we can find so much data. There are various services that have this technology. We interview and consider several who will be able to say, take the Blue and Soul Super Bowl for example, almost like a heat map, will show where everyone is going before the event, where they will be at 8 and where everyone is going after .
“I can see the average time spent at Natchez by people from specific markets.
For example, when I came here, we always said we were only going to look within 100 miles because we want people who are going to stay overnight. Probably if you come from a 70 mile radius you are going to be a day tripper. We want those, but we want those people who are out of our market.
“So Baton Rouge is less than 100 miles away. I said we were never going to pull out of Baton Rouge, but maybe we should spend a lot less in Baton Rouge. Maybe we should start thinking about it. I had been kicking around that. We hadn’t done anything with that idea yet, but I thought we had to spend more than New Orleans. I saw data that showed me that the average visitor to Baton Rouge spends 21 hours at Natchez. They spend the night. It changed my whole decision-making. We will continue to invest in Baton Rouge. They are not primarily day trippers. These are overnight stays,” Heath said. “We will invest more than ever in the intelligence of travelers.”
Importance of customer experiences
It only takes one bad experience to drive most of your customers away, according to the data.
“76% of customers stop doing business with a company after a bad experience,” Heath said. “However, despite inflation, consumers say they will pay more for a product or service to get a better customer experience.”
A well-trained workforce is the key to a good customer experience. Unfortunately, in August of this year, the accommodation and hospitality industry became the worst industry in terms of job loss recovery.
“Of all industries, we still have the worst job losses,” he said.
This makes very important the workforce development efforts taking place in Natchez under the leadership of Tuwanna Williams, hired by the city about a year ago to lead coordinated workforce development here. .
The data also indicates that consumers want inclusive travel.
“78% of consumers say they made decisions based on the messages they would see, marketing ads, etc., that they felt represented them. Travelers are looking for accessibility, diversity and sustainability,” a- he declared.
“On the Visit Mississippi website, from June to August of this year, Black History was the most searched page.”
In 2018, 12.5 million travelers with disabilities accounted for $58.2 billion in travel spending. By 2028, that number is expected to grow to 33.4 million travelers with disabilities seeking accommodation for their unique needs.
“Visit Natchez has developed a plan to target visitors interested in six different areas, namely historic homes, scenic trails, outdoor recreation, groups and meetings, cultural heritage and arts and entertainment, said heath. “That’s how we’ll focus our marketing dollars going forward. We’re pushing these different areas to really drive tourism as we move forward.
Using social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to spread Natchez’s targeted message is key, and Heath said that in the coming year Visit Natchez will start using TikTok. However, multi-agency partnerships have proven critical to messaging and branding success, he said.
Visit Natchez works with:
• STAMP to create a new Visit Natchez brand aimed at promoting wider and positive notoriety.
• Madden Media for advertising brand messaging across all channels and continues to build brand awareness and stability.
• Advance travel and tourism for strategic digital marketing efforts in accordance with its marketing plan.
• Lou Hammond Group for public relations.
“Lou Hammond introduces Natchez to a variety of outlets, opening up more channels of exposure through stories and press releases,” Heath said.
Hammond is also instrumental in vetting and connecting journalists, influencers and travel writers with the Visit Natchez team to generate coverage, he said. The agency also provides analysis and reporting on Natchez’s coverage and tracking.