News Column

Heritage tourism contributes to the economy

May 23, 2014

By Dennis Seid, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo

May 23--TUPELO -- Heritage tourism -- also called cultural tourism -- has plenty of potential for Northeast Mississippi.

Phil Walker of the Walker Collaborative in Nashville has worked with the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area to develop a plan to attract more visitors to the region.

The MHNHA covers all of 19 counties and parts of 11 others most in the northeast part of the state. The designated area bordered by Tennessee, Alabama, Interstate 55 and U.S. Highway 14.

Heritage tourism, Walker explained, "is a strategy in which a site, community or region pursues historic preservation, tourism and economic development by determining interpretive themes, identifying cultural resources tied to the themes, preserving and enhancing the cultural resources and enhancing tourism 'infrastructure.'"

For the Mississippi HIlls NHA, the focus is on Native American heritage, African-American heritage, the Civil War and the arts (music and literature).

By working with communities within the MHNHA and developing a plan together, the region can tap into the interests of heritage tourists who also happen to have deeper pockets.

"Heritage tourists spend about five nights per trip, compared to three nights for other tourists," Walker said. "In addition, they spend about $62 a day more than other tourists."

Heritage tourists spend about $688 per trip, while other tourists spend about $425.

And while manufacturing is the second-largest employment sector in the MHNHA, tourism is among the region's fastest-growing sectors, Walker said. From 2001-2011, overall employment in the region dropped 8.3 percent, while tourism-related jobs -- lodging and food service -- grew by nearly 68 percent.

Walker said the region's tourism market base is "highly dispersed," with only 13 percent of the heritage tourists originating from within the region. International tourists make up 5 percent of the tourists, and up to 30 percent come from other areas of the South.

Music heritage sites and events attract more affluent, international and "big-city" visitors; antebellum home tours attract more regional visitors; and literary heritage sites and events attract more Southerners and students, Walker added.

The Mississippi Hills National Heritage Alliance has the potential to attract up to about 90,000 additional visitors by 2017 for museums in the region and about 40,000 additional visitors to historic sites.

Festivals and events also have big growth potential, with the audience expected to grow by 1.2 million people.

"Heritage tourism has the potential to become one of the primary sectors for the Northeast Mississippi economy," Walker said. "Success with heritage tourism will require strong local commitment with a regional mentality."


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Source: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo)

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