Marketing firm gives VCVB report on RiverFest April event said to have had direct economic impact of $598,400 on city

Published 12:43 am Saturday, September 22, 2012

The 25th RiverFest had a direct economic impact of $598,400 on Vicksburg, a study on the festival by a Nashville, Tenn., marketing firm has estimated.

Laura Beth Strickland, marketing and special events manager for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented the report from North Star Destination Strategies to the VCVB Board of Directors at a Thursday night meeting. North Star handled the bureau’s rebranding effort, which was presented in February.

According to the report, the festival’s economic impact was based on two factors: an estimated $150,900 spent by visitors at the festival and money spent in the city outside of the festival for meals, lodging and at local businesses and attractions, estimated at $447,500.

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The North Star study was conducted for the RiverFest Board of Directors to help it improve the annual festival. Besides determining the festival’s economic impact, the company also polled visitors to get their impressions about the event.

About 5,000 people attended this year’s RiverFest, which was April 20-21.

Shannon Gray, director of research for North Star, said the visitor statistics for the study were compiled from 114 people polled during and after the event. She said AmeriCorps working with RiverFest interviewed people during the festival and got email addresses, which were sent to North Star for further contact.

She said the 114 responses were a combination of 46 people who took the poll at the festival and 68 people who responded to the email poll.

“We wrote the questions for the survey and processed the information,” she said. “Although we didn’t get the number of people we wanted, I’m happy with the results. I don’t think the study was compromised.”

VCVB board member Lamar Roberts questioned the number of responses used for the study.

“You had 5,000 people attend RiverFest … I don’t think that was a good cross-section,” he said.

The poll results indicated visitors liked the festival’s downtown location because of its convenience, but complained about the $20 cover charge for the evening entertainment. The festival charged admission of $20 per day or $35 for both days of the festival for the performances.

“Most of the people said the $20 admission price was too high,” Strickland said. “They said if it had been lower, they would have spent more at the festival.”

According to the study, the people responding suggested admission be reduced to $10.

“We’re going to take this information and look at it and see where we can improve,” said RiverFest board president Johnny L. Reynolds Sr. “We will carefully consider reviewing the admission cost.”

“This was basically an online poll, and when some people were contacted, they didn’t want to answer,” he said after the meeting. “We had this study done because we want to bring more people back. We wanted to determine which direction we need to go. We want to make it family friendly again.”

Other information provided by the study included:

• Most of the visitors to RiverFest were from the Southeast and Southwest, including Texas, Arkansas and Alabama. Others were from the Northeast and Midwest.

About 40 percent said they had been to the festival before, while 46 percent said they had never visited the city before RiverFest. Most said they learned about RiverFest by word-of-mouth, with advertising coming in second.

• The age of the people interviewed was 45 to 54, and their average income was below $50,000.

• Of the people who lived out-of-town, 40 percent said they stayed in a local hotel during RiverFest.

The people polled said they liked the mix of music performed at the festival. They also said they visited other areas of the city, ate meals in local restaurants, shopped in local stores and visited the Vicksburg National Military Park while here.

“We were surprised about the music,” said Strickland, who represents the VCVB on the board. “That response was very good. We thought we were falling into a niche with the music.”

In other action, the board:

• Learned hospitality tax collections were up while hotel occupancy was down in 2011. The $93,488 hospitality tax revenue reported for September was $830 more that reported in 2011. The figure represents taxes collected in July.

The August occupancy rate was 51.6 percent, 3.9 percent below 2011’s rate of 55.5 percent.

“The occupancy rate is about even,” executive director Bill Surratt said. “August is always a slow month. Things should begin to pickup.”

• Accepted the fiscal 2011 audit report.

• Learned the visitor information centers had 5,278 visitors in August, up 1,095 from 4,183 in 2011.