Legislature approves additional tourism funds

By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal

On Wednesday, both chambers of the State Legislature voted unanimously to advance legislation that would create a state tourism advisory board and would allocate up to $15 million a year to be used on advertisements aimed at drawing visitors to the state.
The bill will move to conference before a final version can be signed into law.
Malcolm White, director of tourism at the Mississippi Development Authority, said this legislation would be “a complete game changer.”
White said, “We would go from being the smallest tourism budget in the U.S. to, at fruition, being in the 60th percentile.”
He said the funding mechanism used to create this program would not take away from any other state program or the general fund but would instead draw from new, incremental spending on tourism.
This new model – known as the Missouri model – is being used by only a few states. White lauds this type of funding because it allows states to fund tourism during difficult economic times without making cuts from other programs.
The $15 million allotment would come from “sales tax revenue from certain defined categories that are related to tourism.”
White hopes a portion of the funds will be used to re-establish the Mississippi Development Authority’s marketing matching grant program that was eliminated due to budget cuts.
Neal McCoy, executive director the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the legislation stands to benefit local CVB programs.
“Obviously, we are big supporters of the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism office and are an extension of their brand,” he said, adding that local CVBs are able to extend the dollars they spend through programs like the matching grant program.
The legislation as it now stands specifically states that the money from the fund can be used only for advertising and promotion, on which the state currently spends $3 million a year.
Final decisions on how, where and what the fund supports will be made by the advisory board.