September 20, 2019 10:22:21 AM
More than 250 tourism industry professionals, as well as media and marketing specialists from around the country, will be in Columbus this weekend for the annual Mississippi Tourism Association's Governor's Conference on Tourism.
It is the first time Columbus has been the site of the three-day event, which runs Sunday through Tuesday, said Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Nancy Carpenter, and features events and speakers all around Columbus.
In addition to serving as a networking event, the conference brings in media and marketing specialists from all over the country to meet with the exhibitors, said Rochelle Hicks, executive director of Mississippi Tourism Association, which puts on the conference every year. That gives individual bureaus the opportunity to promote events and tourist hot spots to media that can help advertise those attractions.
"They're meeting with our exhibitors to find out what their latest and greatest offerings are," Hicks said.
Tourism is Mississippi's fourth largest private sector industry, Hicks said, bringing in about $24 million in fiscal year 2018. It's been steadily increasing over the years and affects about 11 percent of jobs in the state.
"Tourism is a pretty big deal for our state," she said.
The conference will also give tourism industry officials the opportunity to review new bills passed during this year's legislative session, including a new bill that will permanently fund Mississippi Tourism Association, rather than have the association ask for more money each year. Hicks said the bill will make it easier to bring in more visitors, which will have a trickle down effect for local communities.
She added Columbus is a great place to hold the conference.
"You have a great visitors center," she said. "You have great venues ... such as The W (Mississippi University for Women). (The conference is) having a reception at Whitehall. You have great restaurants.
"I think all our attendees are really looking forward to it," she added.
Carpenter said it's a good opportunity for Columbus to host the conference.
"We are thrilled to welcome this group of tourism professionals from across the state," she said. "They are the drivers of the tourism industry in Mississippi. ... Over 15,000 visitors are welcomed annually at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center (in downtown Columbus). That is a major impact for this community and Mississippi."