A winning team

BY EMILY LECOZ

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Once the Oxford Board of Aldermen approves the bylaws, it will complete the combination of the Tourism Council and recently opened Conference Center.

The two organizations have joined forces as the unified agency in charge of the city's entire tourism operations – from attracting outsiders to restaurants and festivals to luring large-scale events to the 700-person capacity Conference Center on the northeast side of town.

Bylaws could be approved as early as this month.

Although a name change has not been formally submitted to the city, some suggest it could collectively be called the Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We see the organization and operation of this to be similar to what's known in other communities as a convention and visitors bureau,” said Mayor Richard Howorth. “But a name change request isn't on paper yet.”

At the head of operations is Hugh Stump, named executive director of the combined team in September after former Tourism Council executive director Kelly Norris stepped down to rear her family.

Stump first came on board in October 2001 to facilitate opening the city's new Conference Center, which was then under construction. After working alongside tourism employees to create ads and marketing campaigns, Stump, the aldermen and the Tourism Council Board pitched the merger.

That plan quickly met approval. Since September, the Tourism Council has moved from city hall into the Conference Center, which opened in May, and is working on a new Internet site and e-mail addresses for its eight employees.

“The Conference Center has been marketing the Conference Center, and the Tourism Council has been marketing the Tourism Council,” Stump said. “It will still be the same people doing the same thing but now under the same umbrella.”

Combined resources

Before, the Conference Center staff reported directly to the Board of Aldermen, Stump said. Now, it reports to the Tourism Council Board. It also shares its budget, which today stands at $655,442 combined.

On its end, the Conference Center generates money from renting space to conferences, weddings and other functions. The Tourism Council pulls revenue from a 2 percent hotel/motel tax. Together, the combined group gets a portion of the 2 percent food and beverage tax collected by the city for tourism-based projects.

“What used to be two separate functions will now have united oversight,” Howorth said. “We'll now have greater staff efficiencies, and since everything is financially operating out of same stream of revenue, we can budget better, plan better and have a better understanding of the budget in its entirety.”

For the staff, the transition has been smooth and prosperous. Assistant tourism manager Mary Kathryn Millner said she already has seen greater capabilities of her group to reach a broader audience.

“There's a bigger staff, so we have more means to draw in a more diverse crowd,” she said. “Plus, the Conference Center has helped. Before, a lot of people who came to Oxford were Faulkner scholars or the like, but now we're drawing more business organizations. And its always good for tourism when more people are around.”

Contact Emily LeCoz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com