Linda Fondren honored with Tourism Investment Award by Mississippi Tourism Association

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Mississippi Tourism Association (MTA) recognized the impact and accomplishments of the state’s tourism industry at the annual tourism awards program held during the Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the MSU Riley Center in Meridian from Oct. 4 through 6.

This annual educational and professional devel opment event brought together around 200 tourism industry professionals from across the state as well as tourism partners from the surrounding region.  

“Mississippi’s tourism industry is thriving,” said Gov. Tate Reeves. “Every day more and more people are falling in love with our state — and it’s easy to see why. There’s a beauty to Mississippi that is uniquely inspiring, and it’s hard to find nicer people than Mississippians. Thank you to the Mississippi Tourism Association for telling Mississippi’s story, and congratulations to all of the award winners.” 

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These awards give MTA the opportunity to recognize members who excel in various sectors of the industry. Awards were presented in 18 categories, each focusing on a different aspect of the hospitality industry or individual achievement. 

This year’s recipient of the Tourism Investment Award was Linda Fondren, of Vicksburg. This award is presented to people who have built or invested their time, talents and money into a hotel, restaurant, attraction or other tourism-related project. 

“It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to celebrate these talented members who work tirelessly for their communities and organizations. These awards are very competitive and that is a testament to the caliber of work being produced by our partners and the overall strength of Mississippi tourism. It is our honor to work together with these outstanding professionals to continue to grow and prosper our industry,” said MTA Executive Director Danielle Morgan. 

Built in 1905, the building where Vicksburg’s Catfish Row Museum is now located once housed many local businesses. However, it fell into disrepair after Hurricane Katrina. Fondren bought the 115-year-old building from Vicksburg resident Malcolm Carson for $240,000 and began work to restore it. 

The museum opened to the public in 2021 and the latest renovations were completed in May 2023. The $2 million investment by the Fondrens has been a center for tourism activities and showcasing the region’s rich culture. The Catfish Row Museum continues to look for ways to enhance the visitor experience and expand its offerings. 

This past year, the museum focused on showcasing the food and culture of Mississippi by constructing a 1,500-square-foot demonstration teaching kitchen. This new addition would offer classes on the area’s culinary heritage, allowing visitors to engage with and learn about the diverse foodways culture of Vicksburg and the Mississippi Delta. 

By May 2023, the teaching kitchen was completed and ready for cooking demonstrations by culinary authors and chefs from different parts of the state. This investment of over $335,000 has already attracted the attention of Vicksburg’s riverboat cruises and conference planners.

In addition to the emphasis on Mississippi’s culinary offerings, the Catfish Row Museum also landed a partnership with the Smithsonian. In October and November 2022, the museum collaborated with The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street and the Mississippi Humanities Council to host the “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” exhibition. This exhibition facilitated spirited discussions and reflection on Mississippi’s history, with plans for a permanent exhibit on Vicksburg’s civil rights movement opening in winter 2023.  

The Catfish Row Museum positions Vicksburg as a must-see destination by telling Vicksburg’s distinctive stories through the people and experiences that shaped it and as a partner in revitalizing Vicksburg’s historic downtown.  

“The Mississippi tourism industry thrives with dedicated individuals who share a heartfelt commitment to enhancing their communities and our state as desirable destinations to visit, reside and thrive. We commend their exceptional contributions to our state’s fourth-largest industry and appreciate their unwavering support for the Mississippi Tourism Association’s mission, which unites the entire tourism sector through advocacy, education and promotion. We extend our warmest congratulations to all our award recipients for their remarkable achievements and offer our best wishes for their ongoing success,” said Christy Burns, 2023-2024 president of MTA.