We're live at the Tupelo City Council worksession. We're inside the council chambers in City Hall. And we're drenched. We ran through the rain to get to the meeting.
The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau is presenting its research report to the City Council. Council members here:
• Jonny Davis
• Fred Pitts
• Nettie Davis
• Mike Bryan
Plus, Lynn Norris (CFO), Kim Hanna (city clerk), Glenda Muse (council clerk) and Debbie Brangenberg (Main Street) are here. And of course, a few of us media types.
Disclaimer: I'm typing as people are talking. There may be typos. People also have a tendency to talk at the same time, so I can't always hear everything.
And, I'm not typing every word. Think of this more as the highlights of the meeting.
Something doesn't make sense? Corrections? Have questions? Ask.
Neal McCoy starts things at 3:40 p.m
We're doing it this week because it's National Tourism Week. We're in here presenting it to you because we want to make sure that we are using our sales revenues in the best way possible.
Hands meeting over to Berkeley Young at 3:43 p.m.
We want to talk to you about the travel money that's coming into your coffers.
We aren't going to rehash the entire talk again. We're here because we want to see if there will be any questions/reactions from City Council. We'll keep you posted.
When you are at your peak, you reinvest in your city and your hotels.
Comment from Fred Pitts: I saw that in San Antonio.
Young: Yeah, everyone went to San Antonio and saw the Riverwalk and copied it. Now you have "riverwalks" around the country that are better than the original Riverwalk.
Highlights from Young:
Too many of your visitors are from Mississippi and have been here before. That's not good. You need more out-of-state people. They spend more money. You want people who have never seen your city before because they'll spend more money.
You are a huge destination for shopping. Think of the North Gloster area as a huge tax sponge. You need to get more registers downtown and you need to get them to ring.
Hotels are coming up ways how to entertain themselves. In one town, I saw a Holiday Inn and a Hampton Inn that were next door to each other. On Tuesday nights, the Holiday Inn challenged the Hampton in to a bowling event. Used the hotel shuttle to take them to the bowling alley.
Most hotels in Tupelo aren't going to give you "run of the house." They have loyal business clients that they don't want displace. You only have 40 percent of the rooms to fill.
Bryan question: Does Tupelo lack a hotel? Not a Courtyard by Marriott but a Marriott.
Young: I think you are there. You could have a Marriott. Hilton Garden Inn is select service. You are at a point where you can attract a full-service hotel. There's nothing you can do to attract them, but I think they'll see the numbers and come here.
Jonny Davis: What is optimum occupancy of a hotel?
Young: When your occupancy gets up to 60s and 70 percent, you build more hotels. Most fluctuate between 50 and 70 percent.
Bryan: We just need a Riverwalk. We came back from Greenville, South Carolina, we were looking at Mud Creek. (I'm not sure if he is serious or not. He's smiling.)
Young: Greenville is nothing but a Main Street. You have a Main Street already. It's like a mouth. You've got a lot of good teeth, but you have a few gaps that you need to fill in.
You've got to add more boutique shopping. You've got to add more exciting entertainment. You need to develop more housing.
Bryan: So does the development need to be just downtown or all over town?
Young: You've already done the work downtown to get there. You have the plans to get there. The entertainment district also is designated downtown.
Nettie Davis: I said this yesterday, but we need more entertainment downtown. We need to develop Shake Rag so it is full of entertainment and not bonding companies. We need to work on hours when people are open.
Young: You've had the problem that other places have - lawyers moved into fun retail spaces. We need to get the law firms into office spaces and get retail back into those spaces. People don't like to walk past empty storefronts. They need to be full of fun places.
I went on a group trip to Austria and our entertainment was one man who came in and taught us how to yodel. Night entertainment doesn't have to be anything big or expensive.
Jonny Davis: Neal, do you feel what the birthplace is doing is going to solve this? What else should be looking at?
McCoy: I think their plan is spot on. We need to go to a 365-day programming mentality. We have to get travelers out of their hotels and into our community.
Young: It hurts your recruiting if people think that there's nothing to do here. You have to give your biz travelers something to do.
McCoy: We already have the people here. It's a matter of getting those people here and getting them out and into the venues.
Nettie Davis comment: Since Elvis Presley dealt with Blues and rock 'n' roll, it seems like we can come up with something that would tie both of those in with Elvis.
Young: Absolutely! Another idea - take two choir members to a group tour and tell them, "We're going to teach you how to sing gospel tonight." All the products you have tie in together to form a story.
Your state's tourism marketing budget took a huge hit last week. It was cut by more than 25 percent. That means that you are going to have to invest more to get those tourists.
Whatever you do with new products, make it on theme. We just met with one of your art galleries to see if we can get good, Tupelo, unique art in all of the hotels.
Jonny Davis: Where are we on the curve with similar cities?
Young: I'd say you are 60 percent there. The fact that you have an official Main Street program is huge. It's very visible. Your development foundation. You have all the pieces in place. Don't rest on your laurels. You are doing great, but you need to push forward and get it down.
Nettie Davis: We have an excellent downtown and CVB. As council members, we need to be more open minded and not get hung up on our personal issues. We need to extend the hours for alcohol. We owe that to our citizens to be supportive of our citizens. To serve on the City Council, we need support but what they are trying to do.
Young: The one thing that makes a town succeed is everyone getting oar in the water and paddling.
As leaders, you owe it to yourselves to get out and see other places for yourselves. Was in one place where they took an old train track and developed it into bike trails. You can call one of the bike outfitters and they'll come to your hotel and bring a bike and a box lunch to you for $30/day.
It doesn't take $10M to make this happen. You need to make it fun.
We're going to ask Berkeley to go back and take some of these recommendations and add them to our advertising and our staff allocations. Those changes will be reflected in our budget we present to you.
It's easy to forget about the travel industry. A lot times, they look like you and me and they drive cars like you and me. It's not until you look at their tags that you realize they aren't from here. From the numbers you've seen today, they mean dollars for Tupelo.
This presentation will be given again Wednesday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The afternoon session is full. Morning session has a few more spaces. Call CVB to RSVP.
Meeting adjourned at 4:52 p.m.