Travelers urged to see more of state in ‘longer’ summer

By Patsy R. Brumfield
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tourism venues throughout Mississippi have more time to entice visitors in 2014’s summer with two extra weeks before school starts.

Malcolm White, the state’s tourism chief, says Mississippi “has so many amazing resources” he hopes families will use next year’s extended summer to go somewhere they haven’t been before.

“This is a great opportunity to visit Mississippi, to build that civic pride and educate ourselves on our amazing resources,” White says.

White’s agency, the Mississippi Department of Tourism, is “laser-focused,” he notes, on vacations inside the state, and this later school start “plays right into that.”

A new Mississippi law prohibits the state’s public schools from starting any earlier than the third Monday of August beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

“We’re encouraging north Mississippi folks to see the Gulf Coast or the Blue Trail in the Delta,” White notes, “and for Gulf Coast people to take this extra time to see Elvis’ birthplace, the Tupelo Auto Museum and the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo.”

In Fiscal Year 2012, the latest data available, Mississippi tourism accounted for $6.16 billion in visitor spending, which brought $402 million to the state’s general fund.

However, 73 percent of these visitors were from out of state.

Neal McCoy, chief of Tupelo’s Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, agrees with White but sees other advantages, especially for local sports competition.

“Our tournaments are later in the summer, and I believe we’ll have more Mississippi teams to participate because school won’t have begun yet,” he predicts.

McCoy, the father of three young children, said he’s especially excited about the later school year start because it will free up more weekends for Tupelo to host baseball and softball tournaments.

He also notes the new, extended travel time for visitors is why the change was endorsed by the Mississippi Tourism Association, for which he is legislative point man.

In addition to more time for sports, McCoy points to numerous tourism opportunities throughout the region, which he said he hopes will benefit from the longer summer break.

On the south end of Mississippi, Billy Hewes, Gulfport’s new mayor and a former state senator, says the new school-start law has been a long-running topic.

“We’ve been talking about this (change) for the past decade,” he says. “We think it’s good for our economy – that it’s beneficial overall.”

But Hewes also said his new administration supports activities throughout his region.

“We support the One-Coast Approach,” he notes. “We encourage involvement with activities from one side of the Coast to the other.”

Looking across the state’s tourism offerings, White says he likes the idea of more time to see Mississippi.

He voiced high praise for a drive up the Natchez Trace Parkway and to visit its nearby communities.

“We have a story to tell, so we encourage travelers to take those two weeks for an affordable staycation in Mississippi,” he said.