VICKSBURG IS BACK: Tourism returning strong from COVID lapse
Published 4:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2022
While COVID-19 affected many areas of the community, it hit one of Vicksburg’s major industries hard.
The city’s tourism industry, which is responsible for bringing thousands to the area to tourist attractions like the Vicksburg National Military Park and the city’s museums that tell the area’s story took a major hit as most people stayed close to home rather than travel and risk exposure to the disease.
The drop in tourism in 2020 caused by the virus resulted in almost $4 million lost in taxes and fees and a $43.3 million loss in money spent in the area by tourists for travel, lodging and expenses.
Collections from the 1-percent hospitality tax on food and beverage sales and hotel room rentals to support Visit Vicksburg, generated $1.19 million in the fiscal year 2020, down 8.62-percent from the $1.30 million collected in 2019.
But toward the close of 2021, the area’s tourism industry began seeing a change.
“We are seeing a return to travel,” said Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Laura Beth Strickland. “A lot of our attractions are trying to recuperate from the effects of COVID. We know people are ready to get out and travel and we want to offer a place where they can enjoy themselves in a safe environment.”
The effect of tourists returning to the area was evident in the VCVB’s year-end report for the fiscal year 2021 that Strickland presented on March 10 to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The report covered tourism activity in Vicksburg during the bureau’s fiscal year, which runs from January to December.
According to the report, an estimated 1.836 million people visited Vicksburg during the fiscal year 2021, with 408,200 of them touring the Vicksburg National Military Park, 73,000 visiting the city’s museums and 30,022 stopping at the bureau’s Visitor Information Center. Of the 1.8 million visitors stopping in Vicksburg, 1,278 were international visitors.
Revenue from the special 1-percent tourism sales tax on food and beverage sales and hotel room rentals totaled $1,433,165.54 fiscal 2021; a 17-percent increase over 2020 and a 9-percent increase over 2019.
Sales tax collections for December, the final month of the fiscal year, totaled $114,202; a 15.8-percent increase over 2020 and a 9.3-percent increase over 2019.
Hotel revenue was 17.99 percent over 2020 and hotel occupancy was up 7 percent from the previous year.
The tourism sales tax reimbursement for January 2022, which was received on March 15, was $104,346.56, a 7.2 percent increase from the $96,807.78 received during the same period in 2021.
Visitors to the Vicksburg-Warren County area spent $222,126,822 in 2021, $45,374,075, or 25.67 percent more, than the $176,752,747 spent in 2020. Tourism-related taxes and fees totaled $25,923,984 in 2021; $5,085,946, or 24.41 percent more than the$20,38,038 spent in 2020.
Strickland said the return of tournaments to the Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi sports complex plus the return of fans and teams staying at local hotels for Alcorn State University sports has also helped the revenue picture.
It’s something Vicksburg’s mayor highlighted as well.
“We have more people getting out and doing things they’ve never done before because they realize they were closed in for a while,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “There’s a lot going on out there.
“But at the same time, we have to be cautious at how we look at the revenue growth and make sure we only spend it on one-time expenditures,” he added. “I’ve always been an advocate of making sure when you start looking at revenue goals and new money that you always spend it on one-time expenses when you can.”