Tourism, infrastructure key to our area

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The U.S. travel industry was the hardest hit by the pandemic, contracting by 39%.  In Mississippi, we lost more than $2 billion in visitor spending and the jobs and tax revenues that accompany that economic activity.  In Oxford, the tourism industry saw a loss of local tourism tax revenue of $674,420 from March-December 2020. 

Despite those staggering losses, our state actually performed better than every other state in the nation and had the lowest decline in year over year tourism spending.  This would not have been possible without timely and significant advertising funds made available last year by the Legislature through the Tourism Recovery Fund. Because of these funds, Oxford was able to mitigate losses due to COVID-19 and the industry saw a 19.3% decline in tax revenue compared to the national average of 39%

Through the Tourism Recovery Fund, we allocated federal COVID response dollars to local Destination Marketing Organizations like Visit Oxford to communicate that we were responsibly still welcoming visitors.  Our state primarily relies on drive markets, and with our abundant outdoor resources, Mississippi was an ideal destination for short trips once visitors felt safe traveling again.

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Visit Oxford put their Tourism Recovery Funds to work by putting 50% of the allocated funds towards digital marketing targeting visitors in our 3–6-hour drive market. Additionally, funds were spent on print and outdoor advertising, sales and tourism development, and public relations campaigns to garner media coverage of visiting Oxford safely. The results were clear when we performed better than every other state in the nation.  Now, Oxford is seeing tremendous growth in tourism activity which means more people shopping, more hotel rooms booked, and more diners in our restaurants. Metrics showed that advertising engagement garnered over 20 million impressions and website traffic grew from out of state markets astronomically. As tax revenue came in for July and August 2021, typically a slower time in town, we are seeing the highest numbers for those months, historically, which is a great sign for our local businesses.  

Mississippi’s tourism economy is at an inflection point.  The nationwide industry is in flux and the rules have been re-written by the pandemic.  This type of market disruption offers Oxford an opportunity to seize on our recent strength and capture more market share than typically possible.  Other states are getting in the game in a big way too, so time is of the essence in making smart investments into bringing more people to visit (and spend money in) our communities.

We should also take this opportunity to use some of these one-time federal funds to make generational investments into our destinations to add and improve our outdoor amenities and other attractions.  We need more offerings in order to entice repeat visits and overnight stays for greater economic impact (an overnight visitor spends about four times as much as a day tripper).  For instance, Oxford could invest in developments that would enhance offerings for families and children, finishing wayfinding signage throughout the community, improvements to facilities and signage within our parks, all of which would help to improve our visitor experiences.

A great place to visit is also a great place to live. Mississippi was one of three states that declined in population and we are all concerned about the so-called Brain Drain.  There are complex issues at play there, but Quality of Life is certainly a major factor that determines whether our young people stay in Mississippi.  Talent attraction and recruitment is critical to our businesses and our future economic success.  We must have the same amenities and offerings that other booming metro areas throughout the South offer in order to retain and attract talent.

Tourism is the 4th largest industry in the state.  It is a vital economic engine for Oxford and our surrounding communities.  These one-time federal funds can be put to great use by attracting new and repeat visitors to keep our small businesses, hotels, restaurants, and venues economically strong.  They can also be wisely invested into new amenities that will not only support tourism today but also help Mississippi keep and attract the workforce of tomorrow.  I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Mississippi State Senate and House of Representatives to make strategic investments into our future competitiveness.  

Senator Nicole Akins Boyd represents Lafayette and Panola counties and is serving her first term in the legislature.