Visit Jackson Details Marketing Plan for Tourism Recovery Efforts

The Executive Staff at Visit Jackson provided details surrounding the use of $1.35M in restricted funding for the Tourism Recovery Plan in a Zoom call to partners and stakeholders on Tuesday, September 22. 

Review the PDF presentation | Watch the Zoom presentation

The economic jumpstart, awarded by the State of Mississippi utilizing federal funds through House Bills 1790 and 1791, intends to promote the state as a safe travel destination following months of restricted travel due to COVID-19. 

Visit Jackson President and CEO Rickey Thigpen told that 24 Destination Marketing Organizations around the state had received funds through the $15M stimulus package. 

“(COVID-19) really hit the tourism industry hard,” he said, acknowledging to partners that visitor counts and revenues were down statewide.  

Funding must be used for marketing related activities, including multimedia marketing and advertising; digital, broadcast and printed media; direct sales bookings, public relations and research, among other covered categories. 

Requirements of the Safer Travel campaign include campaign hashtags and the use of approved websites. In Jackson, those tags include #SafelyExploreJXN and the statewide tag, #VisitMSResponsibly, and URLs based at VisitJackson.com and jxn.ms.  

The team showcased Visit Jackson’s Safer Travel page, which lists a state-approved travel safety message, along with category listings to showcase dining, hotel, attractions and activities and the measures they are taking to assure safe travel. 

“We’re excited to share all of the things we are doing,” said Jonathan Pettus, Vice President of Marketing for Visit Jackson. “We’re launching campaigns we never have the funding to do.”  

The campaign strategy revolves around three markets: tourism and feeder markets, locals and meeting planners. Each campaign happens simultaneously with different messaging and different target audiences.  

Discover Our Soul

The tourism and feeder markets-focused campaign, dubbed “Discover Our Soul,” recognizes that people are not traveling as far as they used to and that they may feel more comfortable exploring areas closer to home. Television and radio buys in the local market aim to cause an influx of new city explorers. Commercials are themed around Civil Rights, dining, urban and outdoor experiences and family adventures. 

The primary messaging attempts to balance the “ask” to travelers while being publicly aware of challenges facing travel and tourism. Primary target markets include Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans and Jackson. Secondary markets include Baton Rouge, Birmingham and Mobile.  

“Most of our state will see our advertising,” Pettus said.  

Marketing channels and platforms include broadcast TV, cable TV, streaming radio, search engine marketing, third-party travel sites like Expedia and Trip Advisor, lifestyle, travel and news publications. Influencer blogs and virtual media familiarization tours. 

The Discover Our Soul campaign represents 77% of the total budget for branding. 

Free Your Soul

The “locals campaign,” named Free Your Soul, caters to followers of Visit Jackson’s locals brand, My City, showcased online at jxn.ms.  

“We’re talking to those who love and support Jackson, who are looking for new and unique experiences in the city,”  Pettus said. “We want people who live in Jackson and think they know everything about Jackson to see the city in a different light.”

Through social media placement – paid and organic – and local influencer efforts, the Free Your Soul campaign represents around 6% of the total budget.  

For Meeting Planners

Visit Jackson Vice President of Sales, Shun Hatten, detailed efforts to attract meeting planners back to the city. 

“It’s about jumpstarting our market and getting planners ready to start booking again,” she said. “They are concerned about safety and savings, so we are targeting meeting planners in the Southeast area with associations, government, sports and corporate markets. We’re looking at markets we believe can start booking sooner than others.” 

Tactics include LinkedIn marketing, targeted emails, lead lists, search engine marketing campaigns, a convention platform called CVENT and a Black Meetings and Tourism Newsletter sponsorship, as well as print partnerships in trade publications. Virtual meeting planner FAMS and branded PPE like hand sanitizers and branded masks are available for convention attendees.  

Hatten also noted available financial incentives for meeting planners for business booked between now and December 30, 2020. That business can be for 2021 or after but must be booked by year’s end. 

The campaign launched earlier in September, will run through December and represents 17% of the total budget for branding.  

Vice President of Finance, Jennifer Chance, said Visit Jackson is working with Longwoods International on a research component as part of the Safer Travel funding. The metrics will look at consumer travel sentiment, travel market sector analysis and visitor profiles. 

“We are listening to you and are investing in research to have strong data to drive decision making,” Thigpen noted. 

Also, in partnership with Downtown Jackson Partners, Visit Jackson is working with Mississippi Delivery to help provide delivery services for Jackson restaurants, covering a stipend for sign-on costs and helping to lower the restaurant’s offering percentage in perpetuity.  

Additionally, Visit Jackson Tourism & Convention Sales Manager Sherri Ratliff is visiting local restaurants to assist in funding applications for the state’s Back to Business Program. In meeting with Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, Thigpen said so many businesses had not yet applied for this program, which offers a maximum payout of $28,000.  

“If you are a small mom and pop, that’s a nice payroll help to keep Jacksonians employed,” Thigpen said, noting the 7,000 in Hinds County alone who are employed in the tourism sector.  

Finally, Visit Jackson assisted in the application process for an additional $1M in funding for non-profit museums. Working with consultant and former Visit Jackson board member Pam Confer, nine museums applied, and results will be announced in the coming days.  

“We wanted to be a resource to smaller museums without grant writers (on staff),” Thigpen added.   

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a participant in today’s Zoom call, relayed appreciation from the City of Jackson. 

“Thank you for the great work you are doing,” he said. “The recent collaboration between Visit Jackson and the city has lifted significant burdens off our shoulders. Thank you for taking this from a data-driven approach. I encourage you to measure out the efficacy of these different projects and how it ultimately grows our economy.” 

“Your team at Visit Jackson is working harder than ever,” Thigpen said. “For tourism to have been hit so hard, we have had to be creative and dig harder to remain relevant. We’re working to support our partners. We are your arms and legs and want to be an extension of your sales and services.” 

Visit Jackson was awarded funds two weeks ago and must spend all funds by December 30, 2020, or money must be returned to the State of Mississippi.