CARLIE KOLLATH: Diversification important for tourism industry

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

I’ve been trying for more than a year to convince my brother, Nick, to visit me in Tupelo. He lives in Gulfport and sees the nearly five-hour drive north as a big inconvenience to his work and play schedule.
I’ve tried to lure him to Tupelo with Elvis, buffaloes, concerts, fireworks shows and even fried green tomatoes. They weren’t compelling enough reasons – in his opinion – for him burn two tanks of gas.
That all changed when he found out about an autocross event in Columbus this week.
Now, Nick is planning to make the drive and participate in the race. Initial conversations indicate he is looking forward to checking out the Blue Suede Cruise and the Tupelo Automobile Museum while he’s here.
If only I had known a year ago that I should have been looking for autocross events.
My experience with Nick is a lot like other tourists – you have to find their specific trigger.
Luckily for Tupelo, Elvis is the trigger for many international tourists to make time to spend their hard-earned money.
However, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t do it for everyone.
That’s why I think Tupelo was smart about cultivating various facets in its tourism industry. Along with traditional tourist activities such as festivals and attractions, there are conferences, seminars, sporting events, concerts, weddings and family reunions, among other things.
Just last weekend, four sporting events in Tupelo drew more than 3,000 people to town. According to the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, attendees spent about $607,000 while they were here.
Can you imagine if those visitors had stayed an extra day as pure vacation? For example, when people go to New York or San Diego for business, they often extend their trip to add in some fun.
We need to give visitors a reason to extend their stay, whether it is for an extra night or a few extra hours. The same goes for other cities in our region. Too many times I’ve driven to a downtown area for dinner and then left after eating. I would have stayed to shop or look around, but nothing was open – at least nothing that I as a visitor could see.
A business woman from Jackson may drive here to attend a Friday meeting and plan to drive home that night. But what if she was a diehard barbecue fan and we had a barbecue trail she could do in a few hours? Would she stay overnight and do the trail Saturday?
The longer visitors stay, the more money they spend. That’s why the officials at the Elvis Birthplace want to build an entertainment venue on the grounds.
The folks at the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance and the Mississippi Development Authority also are looking at new tourism niches.
The alliance wants to cultivate cultural and heritage tourism destinations throughout Northeast Mississippi. Topics include architecture, civil rights and the Civil War.
And the MDA is expected to announce stops on its culinary and agritourism trails soon.
Both of these efforts could go a long way toward giving a visitor an initial reason to visit Tupelo, or an extra reason to stay if they are already here.
In the case of my brother, I’m hoping for a dessert trail. A list of the best Southern sweets certainly would help next time I have to convince him to visit.

Contact business reporter Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.