By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Lauderdale County had the largest delegation of any community in the state Wednesday when members of the Tourism Bureau, along with city and county officials and business representatives, attended the Mississippi Tourism Association's annual Legislative Luncheon to kick off the 2013 Legislative session.
Lauderdale County was represented by a large delegation representing many of the entities involved in tourism in Meridian, according to Dede Mogollon, executive director of Lauderdale County Tourism. Delegation members ranged from city and county officials, the East Mississippi Business Development Corp., Meridian Main Street and attractions, events and hoteliers. Several Meridian and East Mississippi legislators were guests of the delegation.
Other tourism officials asked Mogollon how she was able to get such a large representation of the community to attend.
"We really were held up as the example that they all wish that they could be," Mogollon said.
Wade Sims, president of the Lauderdale County Tourism Commission, was pleased with the turnout and credits the efforts of local tourism staff.
"The local Tourism Board has asked this office to make sure that everyone in the community works together and that's a priority to them," Sims said. "This was evidence that they are making progress because we had all areas of the community that took time out of their schedule to go over and meet the legislators. We're very proud of that."
Steve Martin, assistant director of Lauderdale County Tourism, said the biggest point tourism officials wanted to make was to let legislators know how important tourism is to Mississippi and the dollars it brings in.
"It gives us a chance to interact with them. It gives us a chance to express how important tourism is to the industry, to our community," Martin said. "It's to reiterate how important tourism is and how much we appreciate everything done on behalf of the state in tourism."
Also during the meeting, legislators heard the latest numbers on tourism in the state.
Mississippi Travel and Tourism Industry FY 2012 figures:
• $6.16 billion was spent by travelers and tourists,
• Travel and tourism is the fourth-largest private sector employer.
• Annual direct payroll income for travel and tourism employees was $1.8 billion.
• Travel and tourism provided $550 per Mississippi household in tax relief as a result of travel and tourism state and local taxes/fees generated from visitor expenditures.
For Sims, the meeting signals even further progress being made by the community's efforts to boost tourism here.
“It was refreshing to hear so many positive comments from our legislators and state tourism officials heralding Meridian as the example of communities working together," Sims said. "On behalf of the Tourism Commission, we’d like to thank all of our partners who work tirelessly to enhance and promote our tourism product here in Meridian.”
The strong showing indicates to the state how seriously Meridian takes tourism, Mogollon said.
“We were elated to have such a strong and diverse delegation representing tourism in Meridian," Mogollon said. "We appreciate the partnerships of all involved with our community’s Tourism industry. We sent a clear message statewide that Meridian values our Tourism industry and works together to propel its success.”
Kappi Allen, president of the Mississippi Tourism Association, said travel and tourism contributes to Mississippi’s quality of life and to its economic well-being.
"If all direct travel and tourism jobs evaporated, the state’s unemployment rate would skyrocket to 15.5 percent," Allen said. " Most of the 116,000 direct and indirect jobs attributed to travel and tourism cannot be outsourced. Travel and tourism means new money to our state every day as one of Mississippi’s top export-driven industries."