With MS Numbers Ahead of National Stats, Tourism Outlook Optimistic

Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn said, “Tourism is an economic driver, which is why we have invested in the industry’s ability to generate revenue for our state and communities.”

As 2020 fades in the rearview mirror, Mississippi tourism leaders, including Visit Jackson, are touting above-average travel numbers and a path to continued success in 2021.

At a gathering of Mississippi tourism professionals in Jackson this week, the feeling was optimistic.

Despite a global pandemic, 21 million people visited the state last year and spent $5.65B, according to the Mississippi Tourism Association’s Rochelle Hicks. That travel supported over 106,000 jobs in Mississippi, making the hospitality industry the fourth largest employment sector. 

“We know that the safe return of travel and tourism will be crucial to our state and our nation’s recovery,” said Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn. “Tourism is an economic driver, which is why we have invested in the industry’s ability to generate revenue for our state and communities.”

That investment of $15M to 24 destination management organizations around the state included restricted-use funds for Visit Jackson in the amount of $1.35M, part of Congressional pandemic relief efforts from the state’s Tourism Recovery Plan.

And the influx of money paid off.

While tourism was down 48% on a national level, statewide visitation was only down 22%. In Jackson, that number dropped to 17%.

“The year did yield a reduction in visitation, especially attending conferences and meetings, but the collective ambition of the Mississippi destination marketing organizations and the Jackson hospitality industry mitigated the losses,” said Rickey Thigpen, President and CEO of Visit Jackson.

Thigpen (right) speaks with MS Film Office Director Nina Parikh (left) and the Two MS Museum’s Pamela Junior (right) outside the museums on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

In part, Jackson’s strong push to recover was seen and heard through local and statewide broadcast television and radio spots, digital on-demand platforms, and regional media placements. The focus drew attention from across Mississippi, but locals noticed and their increased curiosity followed, too.

As global travel sentiment remains low, with calls from the US Travel Association to, by May 1, identify a roadmap for recovery, domestic travel interest has begun to rebound.

Gunn cited a recent Wall Street Journal travel article that showed interest in domestic travel at an all-time high. For Mississippi, Gunn said, it is “a tremendous opportunity to pull together, be proud of our state, promote what we have to offer here and entice people to come.”

A key piece of that enticement will be in assuring travelers that they can feel safe in their exploration of the state, a factor Thigpen said Jackson is excelling at.

“Our commitment to public safety for our visitors and industry professionals remains a priority today and into the future. That is our new normal. Strategies and best practices implemented during these difficult times have prepared us to reopen our destination to visitors including meetings and conventions, sporting, and special events attendees, the right way.”

The timing is also perfect for travelers to take a look at a Mississippi that is working to turn the page on its image.

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, center, poses with Mississippi Miss Hospitality,
Mckay Lee Bray (left) and MTA’s Rochelle Hicks (right)

“Part of what we’re doing is branding ourselves, with new flags, new opportunities, new jobs and new tax incentives,” said Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann. “Part of that comes from our tourism.” 

And part of that is simply showcasing Mississippi’s best asset: her people.

“People who come here… they always say, ‘These people are so nice,’” Hosemann explained. “How many times have you heard that? Whatever their thought of Mississippi, it’s dramatically changed every time they come here. That leads to economic development. We’re going to take the success of the last year (despite the pandemic) and look at the pages that we turned so we can continue to turn those pages and continue to bring people here because you are the nicest people.”

About Visit Jackson
Visit Jackson is the official destination leadership organization for the city of Jackson. The bureau serves Jackson by positively impacting the city’s economy through recruitment and procurement of meetings and tourism activities.

Created in 1983, Visit Jackson acts as a quasi-independent government agency reauthorized by the state legislature and governed by an independently appointed board of directors with members representing the hotel, restaurant, attraction, art, and education sectors.

Media contact: Kim Lewis – klewis@visitjackson.com or 601.354.2553 for interviews, statements and story ideas.