Tourism is the key

Published 9:42 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tourism seems to be the talk of the town lately. Although this conversation started in earnest in 2007 with the hiring of Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau director Bill Seratt.

Local tourism revenue and visitors seeking information were up in 2014 Seratt announced during a National Tourism Week rally.

Revenue from tourism increased 5.5 percent from approximately $35 million in 2013 to $36.9 million in 2014, Seratt said. Hospitality tax revenue also increased 2.5 percent form $1.12 million to $1.15 million, he said.

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Accounting for 86 percent of that revenue is the crown jewel of Vicksburg tourism, Vicksburg National Military Park.

A year after the local sesquicentennial commemoration of the Siege of Vicksburg wrapped up, the economic impact of VNMP has remained at a steady $30 million.

In 2010, The Post ran an in-depth series of stories on the state of tourism in Vicksburg. The 10 stories focused on some of the following topics.

• Limited public transit is a driving concern

• No crystal ball on convention center hotel

• Nature a great natural resource in area

• Music offerings could use real ‘juke joint’

• New recreational parks could equal ‘major bucks’

• Annual events are foundation for return visits

• ‘Immersion’ experiences increasingly important

Many of the issues facing our community in 2010 have or are being addressed and others will be handled soon.

A citywide referendum on a sports and recreation complex will come before voters and will need 60 percent of the votes if a sports complex is to become a reality.

Diversity is key to a healthy investment portfolio and the same rings true for tourism. We need to further diversify our tourist offerings.

The VNMP has done an excellent job capitalizing on nature, immersion experiences and even venturing into musical offerings.

In December 2014, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, part of which gave the National Park Service authorization to add battlefield land at Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond. The park’s management team is working with the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta to start the planning process for acquiring and developing more than 11,000 acres.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. also praised the efforts of tourism officials, calling them “the lifeline of the community.”

“It’s an understatement to say the vitality of this community is tourism,” Flaggs said.

Serrat and VNMP interim superintendent Bill Justice anchor that lifeline.

Seratt was the director of the Greenville-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau for 11 years before coming to Vicksburg in 2007.

He brought 30 years of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry. He is a founding member and president of the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association, a group formed to promote the Delta region. He has also served on the board of directors for the Mississippi Tourism Agency and was named the agency’s 2007 Executive Director of the Year.

Justice comes to Vicksburg from the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Kentucky and worked at Natchez National Historical Park from 1995 until 2001 — a crucial time for development of the park.

It’s a crucial time for Vicksburg as well. All the ingredients for success are present, now it’s time to rise to the occasion.