Oxford proposes more tourism advertising

Oxford StockBy Errol Castens
Daily Journal

OXFORD – Tourism Council members will ask for a 150 percent increase in Visit Oxford’s advertising budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Council members voted Wednesday to increase their request to the Oxford Board of Aldermen from the current $40,000 to $100,000, following the advice of consultant Berkeley Young, who conducted a year-long study of Oxford’s hospitality industry. The council will actually ask for a smaller overall budget after transferring responsibility for two historic properties – the L.Q.C. Lamar House and Cedar Oaks Mansion – to other entities.

“Berkeley wants us to ask for a lot more than $100,000” for advertising, said Kinney Ferris of Visit Oxford.

Young had said that Oxford’s tourism business has a feast-or-famine nature, with average hotel occupancy at less than 50 percent year-round, compared to the national average of more than 60 percent.

“Basically, you’re giving a beautiful party and not sending out enough invitations,” Young told business leaders in February. The fact that fewer than 20 percent of survey respondents were first-time visitors, he said, proved that “you’re not advertising enough” – especially to retirees and other mid-week visitors.

Young had said Tupelo and Batesville got a great deal of overflow hotel business from football weekends, commencement and a few other sellout weekends in Oxford.

Only rarely does Oxford benefit from overflow from its neighboring towns, he said, and Tupelo is drastically outspending Oxford’s current advertising budget.

“You’ll be buying about one ad to their four” at current rates, Young said. “We need to get some money and get out there in the marketplace.”

Tourism is already big business in this quintessential college town. Young estimates it created $105,186,166 in revenue for Lafayette County businesses in 2012 (a 14.1 percent increase over 2011).

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ferris noted that after several down months that included an unusually cold and rainy spring, recent “tourism tax” collections were substantially up month-to-month-over last year in Oxford.
April’s food-and-beverage tax collections were up 8 percent over 2012, and the same tax in May was up 12 percent year to year. The hotel tax was up a whopping 18 percent in April and seven percent in May.

errol.castens@journalinc.com