We're live at the graduation ceremony of the Tupelo tourism leadership program. We're inside the meeting rooms at the BancorpSouth Arena.
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, exec director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, welcomes everyone at 11:35 a.m.
We're eating lunch - salad, chicken, rice, veggies and coconut cream pie.
We are celebrating National Tourism Week this week. Follow along on Twitter: #travelrally #tourismrally
We're also celebrating the graduation of our tourism leadership program. They are key influencers who completed five sessions of training.
First, we're going to have an overview of Tupelo's tourism industry from Berkeley Young, consultant we hired to do a research-based market study of Tupelo.
I like to say "travel" not "tourism." Travel all begins with you - with people who show hospitality.
The travel industry is picking up. Most Americans have been to Disney, they've been to New York, they've been on a cruise, but they haven't been to Tupelo. We need to get them here.
Travel is an amazing way to raise revenues without raising taxes.
The travel industry is growing. People leave to go to a wedding, a funeral, a weekend trip wherever. Travel is therapy. That's what we want - the two-night stay.
I want to convince you that in Tupelo you are in the hospitality business. You have an active industry of people coming here. You are in the therapy business. They don't want to come here and hear about your problems. They want to come here and hear that it's all good. They want to have fun.
If you are out and run into someone, be friendly. Be Southern. Be nice to them.
I'm going to ask you all a favor - when I'm in your town and I'm going slow and I can't find where I'm going, please don't get on my bumper and give me a rude gesture. Be nice.
I'm so pleased to have our chief of police here. The police are in the hospitality industry. I bet a day doesn't go by that they don't get flagged down and asked for directions.
When you see an out-of-town tag, you need to get a warm fuzzy feeling and think, "That person is putting money into our coffers."
A great place to live is a great place to visit. The visitors can tell if you are passionate about Tupelo.
The research we just did confirms that what your leaders are doing is the right thing. They were 100 percent on track with doing the right thing - downtown, mall, birthplace.
If you make this a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, I can promise you it will become a great place to visit.
Challenge as Southerners is that we were taught not to be nosy or aggressive. We need to change that. We need to be aggressively friendly. We want to share our city and our enthusiasm with them and we want them to share their money with us.
Continue building your community and building downtown and connecting it with the birthplace. You are Tupelo. You have a unique name and unique history - Tupelo.
The one thing research shows is that after 5 o'clock there's nothing to do. You need evening entertainment. That doesn't mean alcohol and wild parties. How about singalongs? Ice cream socials?
Your entertainment district downtown? Make it happen and make it happen fast. This is a case of build it and they will come.
Gospel - it's a unique art form that people will come from all over the world to hear.
As we celebrate National Tourism Week, celebrate Tupelo.
Tourism is an industry that provides a lot of jobs and economic impact, but we have to have a passion for it.
I hope you'll continue to build your passion and invite your friends to come.
Berkeley is spot-on. Now it's time to move into recognizing our leaders. Last year I had the honor of participating in CDF's Jim Ingram leadership program. That program inspired me to form a leadership program for my industry.
Please help me welcome the graduates as they get their diploma.
And the graduates are:
• Janice Anthony - Oren Dunn City Museum
• Rachel Becker - Up, Up & Away Balloon Festival
• Tommy Green - VP of Chamber of Commerce for Community Development Foundation
• Blair Hill - assistant director of Elvis Presley Birthplace
• Richard Hurt - GM of Fairpark Grill
• Donna Lauderdale - assistant GM of Hilton Garden Inn
• Donna Loden - education coordinator at HealthWorks!
• Cindy Murphy - GM of Holiday Inn Express & Suites
• Ashley Prince - co-owner of Caron | Prince Art Gallery in downtown Tupelo
• Jane Spain - President/CEO of WTVA Television Inc. and exec director of Tupelo Automobile Museum
• Helen Wade – Community Development Foundation
• Allie Vance West - program associate for Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association
(Stephanie Browning is another graduate. She's on the way.)
That's all of our graduates. The Tupelo CVB has voted to give scholarships to the Southeast Tourism Marketing College. The professors bring experience and real-life knowledge. Berkeley Young is the board chair.
Scholarships that were set up by the board are named after Lynn Davis, rep of CDF. (He was killed in last year's April tornado.) Another was named after Everett Kinsey, long-time board member.
The scholarships are awarded in alternating years.
This year the Everett Kinsey scholarship goes to ... Allie West. Congrats!
Meeting adjourned at 12:16 p.m.