Home and garden show good opportunity to learn what works and doesn’t in tourism

The Union County Master Gardeners are presenting their fifth annual home and garden show this Friday and Saturday.

The annual event may not get as widespread publicity as, say, the Tallahatchie RiverFest but it is noteworthy for several reasons.

One, it is put together by a relatively small group but includes a day and a half crammed with a wide variety of programs plus vendors and exhibits.

Also, if past years are any indication, it will draw a couple of thousand people.

Some of the visitors will be local, probably many of them. But the show last year brought people from as far away as Natchez, central Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee and perhaps other states.

And that is tourism.

We tend to refer to any event that is in any way special and draws a crowd as “tourism.”

But, for tourism officials, the term really means something that people travel more than 70 miles to see, often as part of a larger trip, specifically for leisure activity. A strictly local music or other event that only pulls in folks from the country and adjoining area is not, strictly speaking, tourism.

The home and garden show clearly passes the 70-mile test (so do several other special events and attractions in Union County – but not all).

It brings people from some distance and, much more important, it brings people who expect, and want, to spend money.

Not all will spend the night, but some will. They all will eat here and many will want to shop or look around.

They will ask about places to eat, including chains and franchises, but will be more interested in the unique local restaurants with community atmosphere and character.

They may go to Wal-Mart but they are more interested in the local consignment shops and boutique or specialty shops that offer unusual products.

I claim to be no expert on all this but base what I say on talking with many of the visitors to past home and garden shows.

Some visitors were local or at least from Northeast Mississippi. Others, however, came from farther away, drove along Hwy. 78 and got off at the Glenfield exit and proceeded to the fairgrounds. They had no idea where downtown New Albany was or what it was like or even how to get there. It was obvious that our signs around and in the city were not doing the job needed, and as a result, alternative aids were not available to help them either.

We did what we could to suggest places to eat and shop, not surprisingly focusing more on our own advertisers, and provided the best directions we could. This weekend we will be better prepared to give directions and make suggestions using some of our print publications.

I suggest you attend the home and garden show.

You should have a very good time if you have any interest in garden-related topics at all, and perhaps even if you don’t

More important, you can talk and visit with the visitors there to learn what they think about our community, what makes an event successful and, as a result, what we need to better promote our community to help our economy grow and improve our quality of life.

Regardless of what tourism is and isn’t, people are ready and willing to come to our community and spend money with us. All they ask is that we make it easier for them, letting them know what we have and where it is, and welcome us rather than sending people to other towns to do their spending.

J. Lynn West


(Note: See the accompany opinion from a Gulf Coast newspaper concerning how they are tackling promotion. While the PUL Alliance concept has worked well here in terms of economic development, would cooperative tourism promotion work as well? )



Moving Relay for Life earlier looks like good choice


Organizers for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life have moved the event from the first week in June to May 10. We have not talked with those involved since learning of the change and so don’t know exactly what affected their decision but it looks like a good move.

Obviously, the weather should be a bit cooler. Also, the June time usually fell not too long after high school graduations and people were often out of town or had other plans. May 10 will fall somewhat into the rush of activities toward the end of the school sessions, but still will be two weeks before.

Relay for Life has a strong history in Union County. It draws a good crowd and has a record of bringing in some of the highest fundraising totals in the state. Moving the event to early May should only make it more successful. It looks like a good decision.

J. Lynn West