Tourism looking up in Oxford

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Hotel tax collection was up 22 percent in February compared to a year before. That figure could reflect a drastic year-to-year improvement in February weather.
A less volatile measure – the food and beverage tax – also showed a substantial February year-to-year gain. The 2-percent levy on restaurant meals and beverages brought in $161,198 in February 2012, compared to $145,199 in the same month in 2011.
Mary-Kathryn Herrington, Oxford’s director of tourism, reported those figures Wednesday to the Oxford Tourism Council.
“I think that is typically a pretty slow time of year, and those are some good numbers,” she said.
Herrington said a mix of events and attractions bring visitors to Oxford. The University of Mississippi leads the list, of course, drawing people for athletics, conferences, scholarly research and even high school students and their parents on college scouting tours.
Some of the town’s own tourism includes potential retirees, fans of novelist William Faulkner, those looking for “The South” and regional residents who are drawn by concerts, art shows, shopping, dining or just visiting friends.
Events such as the Double Decker Festival, which will dominate the Square on April 27-28 with arts, music, games and food, also brings tens of thousands to Oxford.
One major measure proved counterintuitive last year. Questioning some of the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s advertising choices, Tourism Council member Scott Caradine said, “In the big picture, if Ole Miss football is winning a lot of games, people are going to be staying in Oxford hotels. If the football team is losing, they’re not.”
Last year’s restaurant tax, however, was up 15, 7 and 15 percent in September, October and November 2011, respectively, over 2010, despite a 2-10 record for the Ole Miss football team.
“The football team didn’t have a very good year,” Herrington said, “but the tourism tax is doing pretty well.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com