Riverboat traffic, visitors on rise
Published 10:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2016
The Red Carpet City of the South is on track to receive 30,000 visitors via water this year, Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau said, during the organization’s last board meeting.
And that number, he added, is expected to rise next year.
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In preparation for the growing number of tourists visiting Vicksburg via riverboats, which carry 180 to 420 passengers during each visit, city officials and downtown merchants have been working to best accommodate the river visitors.
This is especially true in light of a meeting held last month with American Queen Steamboat Company about their stops in Vicksburg. Information addressed at the steamboat company meeting was discussed in a downtown merchant meeting last week where the mayor spoke, and at both the Main Street Vicksburg and VCVB board meetings last week.
“What we’re trying to do is accommodate the riverboat and the tours in this county,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said of the meeting with the steamboat company. “We just want to make sure there is more collaboration and communication. We’re here to serve.”
Requests from the company ranged from relocating the dumpster on the riverfront to providing benches at a few of the hop on/hop off tour stops.
“Their concerns were not market specific. It was concerns they share at all their stops along the river,” Seratt said. “It was not addressing any bad issues or anything specifically about Vicksburg.”
The American Queen, the largest of the boats to dock on the riverfront, makes stops in Vicksburg and Natchez in Mississippi on its way to New Orleans from Minnesota. Seratt said the company estimated a $23,000 to $27,000 impact each time its steamboat stops in Vicksburg.
“We wanted more information so we asked how they determined that information, and they said that was a port average, that they did not specific research on Vicksburg,” he said.
Seratt mentioned having downtown stores open when the American Queen is docked as one of the main requests of the company, which would often require them to be open earlier or later than their normal operating hours.
“When you’re a mom and pop shop…sometimes it’s hard to expand those hours unless they are making enough money to pay help to come in to be open extended hours, then it’s simply not worth it for them,” he said.
To provide downtown residents with more specific information on the potential economic benefits of opening for steamboats, Seratt said the VCVB would be doing a study to determine economic impact.
“We’re going to try to determine how much money they’re actually spending with the downtown merchants, so hopefully it will be a motivator to help them stay open more,” he said.
Vivian Monistere, co-owner of Keystone Antique on Washington Street, along with Seratt and Flaggs, said the downtown merchants were on board with coordinating with the riverboats.
“What we’re (the merchants) are trying to do is open early on days they dock, and have at least some shops open on Sundays,” Monistere said. “They’ve got to be able to have their lights on and pay the employees. It’s got to make good business sense, but they’re willing to try.”
Flaggs said the other main requests were aesthetic.
“I thing that’s my concern and their concern is the need to polish up the riverfront. I think we ought to have more sitting areas, more signage on the wall,” he said. “My goals is to get them to stay two nights rather than one night in Vicksburg. I think if we can get them to stay two nights, it will help our local economy and help us give Vicksburg more exposure.”