The tourism industry in Mississippi, including Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, received millions of dollars in federal money to ensure the state could safely stay open for visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter told members of the Columbus Exchange Club during their weekly luncheon at Lion Hills Thursday.
Carpenter said members of destination marketing organizations formed a nonprofit to lobby the state Legislature for funding, receiving a total of about $14 million in Cares (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding altogether to increase marketing. She said CVB took out full-page advertisements in publications like Mississippi Magazine, Nashville Magazine and Garden and Gun to keep visitors coming to Columbus and tell them how to visit “responsibly.”
“We wanted to make our potential travelers aware that Columbus is a safe destination and that you can visit through safe social distancing and creative ways,” she said.
The funding and marketing have helped keep tourism afloat during the pandemic, she said.
Moreover more events — all outdoor or at least requiring masks and social distancing — are coming up for both visitors and residents in the coming weeks, she said.
Next week, Columbus will host “Happy Birthday, Tennessee Williams!” a celebration of the 210th anniversary of the Columbus-born playwright’s birth. Carpenter said the two-day event will open with a birthday party on the lawn of the Tennessee Williams House downtown on March 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will include food and beverages, door prizes, the opportunity to have pictures made with figures dressed as Williams and his mother, Edwina Williams, and a porch skit from one of Williams’ plays.
Celebrations will continue that night with a reading of “Mr. Williams and Miss Wood” by Broadway star Joel Vig and Cherri Golden at the Rosenzweig Arts Center downtown at 6:30 p.m., and a book signing with Augustin Correro’s “Tennessee Williams 101” at Friendly City Books downtown on March 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Carpenter said CVB will also host the annual Catfish in the Alley downtown April 8-10. The festival features three days of live music, vendors and food and includes performances by bands like Just a Few Cats — which opens the event at the Tennessee Williams Home on April 1 at 5 p.m. — Big Joe Shelton and the Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors and Keith Johnson and the Big Muddy Band.
Additionally, Carpenter said, CVB will spend the spring hosting major outdoor events that are safe for visitors, such as soccer tournaments and five fishing tournaments.
Carpenter said she looks forward to “safely reopening” Columbus — especially given the challenges of the last year and her anticipation that as the pandemic winds down, more people will be excited to travel.
“The last several months have presented unprecedented challenges for the hospitality industry, but we are encouraged by the progress in Columbus,” Carpenter said. “We made a commitment to find solutions and to do our part, not just locally, but throughout the state.”
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