TUPELO – As popular as he is today, Elvis Presley is expected to continue to ride the wave of popularity for generations to come.
And that continued interest should serve Tupelo well.
“He’s known all over the world,” said Linda Butler Johnson, the executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. “He’s put us on the map.”
Tourism officials here are gearing up for several hundred visitors this week for what would have been Elvis’ 75th birthday on Friday.
As the birthplace of Elvis, Tupelo has a lot riding on the fame of the internationally known music icon.
Not only does he attract tourists throughout the year, the fact that Tupelo is Elvis’ birthplace also is used when recruiting businesses, conventions, meetings and sporting events.
In fiscal year 2009, the Elvis Presley Birthplace had more than 46,600 visitors, according to the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. In December, visitors came from 37 states and 15 countries.
Each June, fans come to the Tupelo Elvis Festival, which draws tribute artists from around the world. People also visit the Elvis-related sites in downtown Tupelo, including Tupelo Hardware Co., where the young king’s mother bought his first guitar.
While the tourists are in town, they eat at restaurants, shop at stores, buy gas at convenience stations and maybe even stay overnight at a hotel and visit other attractions.
In the most recent fiscal year, the city collected $3.1 million in a restricted tourism tax on hotels, motels and restaurants. Elvis tourists aren’t the sole source of the money, but they certainly contribute to it.
The running joke at the Tupelo CVB is that Elvis pays the staff’s salaries.
But will that still be the case at the celebration in 25 years, when Elvis’ 100th birthday rolls around and when many of his contemporaries have gone up to play the great guitar in the sky?
“Judging by others, each five-year anniversary gets a little bigger than the others,” said Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Birthplace. “You would think it would get less because the fans are dropping off, but they aren’t. We see all ages of Elvis fans.”
Elvis’ popularity goes beyond fans who were alive when the musician was a living star, said CVB Marketing Director Stephanie Moody-Coomer.
“I think Elvis Presley Enterprises has done a great job cultivating the youngest generation, with candy bars and cartoons like ‘Lilo & Stitch,'” she said.
Added Johnson, “My grandson is 11. He lets me know about all things Elvis.”
The younger fans also are turning up at the Tupelo Elvis Festival, said this year’s festival co-chairman John Avila.
Avila also cited the popularity of Elvis with the 20-somethings, like tribute artist Brandon Bennett, who will perform at the Lyric Theatre on Thursday.
“There’s a whole other generation of people who have been mesmerized with Elvis and the mystique and are enchanted by that,” Avila said. “It’s our job to capitalize on that.”
Johnson at the CVB agreed, saying she doesn’t see Elvis’ popularity fading.
“I don’t see a time when no one cares,” Johnson said. “Elvis will always be there with the dream. It’s part of the American culture.”
What they are saying
Here are few links about the recent press trip to Tupelo:
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal