Grand Gulf outage again boosts income from tax collections

Published 11:45 am Friday, April 20, 2012

Vicksburg hotels’ influx of workers associated with the outage at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson again has increased hospitality tax collections for the second straight month, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Bill Seratt said.

“That is definitely outage-driven,” Seratt told the VCVB Board of Directors Thursday. “Overall, the hospitality tax collections at this point are about $62,000 over our projections.”

He said hospitality tax collections for March were $103,424, $24,834 more than the $78,590 collected in March 2011. He said hotel occupancy was 84 percent in March, up from 59 percent in March 2011.

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The outage project at Grand Gulf is an upgrade expected to make Grand Gulf the nation’s single most powerful reactor. Entergy officials have said about 4,000 workers are involved in the project, and most of them are staying in Vicksburg hotels.

The influx of workers increased hotel occupancy rates to 75.5 percent for February, bringing in $81,578 in hospitality tax revenues for the month, more than $8,000 over the $73,574 in tax collections for February 2011.

Seratt said, however, that the increased occupancy caused by the project was hurting tourism traffic, because the room rates are up and rooms are hard to find.

“We have people calling and asking us what’s up with our rooms rates, and when we tell them why, they say they’ll come later in the year,” he said.

In another matter, the board discussed whether to put more money into Internet advertising.

The debate arose while board members reviewed plans for the transfer of $75,000 from the bureau’s money market account to its budget, including $40,491 for space advertising, increasing the allocation for magazine ads to $100,491.

A total $60,000 was initially budgeted for space in the fiscal 2012 budget.

The board voted 4-3 to distribute the money market funds as proposed. Seratt said the transfer of funds was included in the budget.

Board members David Day, Julie Ford and Myra Logue opposed transferring the money.

Day, who owns Klondyke, said most of his new business comes from people who have seen his business online. He said Internet advertising has become more popular and the VCVB should consider putting more money in Internet advertising.

Logue, who is a tour guide, and Ford, who is sales and marketing manager for the Holiday Inn, said most of their business comes from inquiries on the Internet.

Seratt said the VCVB cannot stop advertising in publications.

“Not advertising in print is deadly in the tourism business,” Seratt said.

He said circulation in the “niche” and regional magazines in which the VCVB advertises is increasing, adding most of the publications also have websites that include the Vicksburg ads.

“We’ve got to broadcast across the spectrum. We have to touch everything,” he said.

In other action, the board:

• Approved building improvements and maintenance work at the visitor information center at Clay Street and Old Highway 27, totaling $20,059.

The work includes erosion control in the south side of the building, replacing the wooden walkway between the center and a storage building with a concrete path, replacing the building’s front and back steps and work to the parking lot.

GrassMasters of Vicksburg will do the erosion control and landscaping, and Sanders-Hollingsworth Builders of Vicksburg will do the building repairs and parking lot work.

• Learned the VCVB’s information centers had 6,223 visitors in March, 1,900 more than in March 2011.