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Economy, war jitters cited in decreasing local tourism

fmessina@vicksburgpost.com

The nation’s wobbly economy and jitters over the possible war in the Middle East were mentioned as possible reasons for a drop in the number of visitors to Vicksburg in January compared to the same month in 2002.

Down most sharply were the number of admissions to the Vicksburg National Military Park. Local and state welcome center counts were down or about even and so were formal tours and requests for information.

The Old Court House Museum-Eva W. Davis Memorial, however, showed an increase of 244 admissions from January 2002 to January 2003.

Lenore Barkley, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, which compiled the figures, said people are watching their money.

“I hear, We’re planning to come unless the bottom drops out of the stock market again,'” she said. “So, the economy, I suppose, is playing a part.”

Barkley also said a large percentage of the people who visit Vicksburg in the winter months are older, retired people who may be on fixed incomes or who depend on investments to fund travels.

She said she learned at a meeting with other Mississippi convention and visitors bureaus two weeks ago the month was slow for everyone.

There’s also a general anxiety about war, she said. The federal alert level for terrorist attacks was raised to “high” last week, meaning the numbers might not change soon.

According to VCVB statistics, the number of visitors at information centers was 2,380 last month, compared to 3,212 in January 2002.

The Mississippi Welcome Center on Washington Street posted visitation of 7,118 in January, compared to 7,204 in the same month in 2002.

The VCVB also reported the number of inquiries dropped from 2,310 in January 2002 to 2,138 last month.

The visitation at the Vicksburg National Military Park, generally between 900,000 and 1 million a year, took the largest numerical drop, falling from 62,221 in January 2002 to 40,312 last month.

Park Superintendent Bill Nichols was as uncertain as Barkley over the reason.

“I have discussed it with the staff, and the only thing we can come up with is the cold weather (in January), especially over the weekends … The other possibility is the economy,” he said.

“We showed a significant increase, and we don’t know why; we are just thankful,” said Gordon Cotton, curator and director of the Old Court House Museum.

Although he does not have the figures to prove it, Cotton said one reason the museum had 1,390 paid visitors last month compared to 1,146 the previous January could be the fact the American Queen steamboat made a stop here and a high school tour group from Tyler, Texas, added about 75 to the normal count.

The rise in gasoline prices is not reflected in the January numbers, Barkley said, but could begin to show up if the increases continue. The average price of a gallon jumped 11 cents per gallon last week to an average of $1.63.