Nearly 800 visitors to the Itawamba County Welcome Center were treated to a showcase of Itawamba County’s amenities, last week.

As part of its annual celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week, the Tremont-based Welcome Center hosted a week of programs intended to spotlight area businesses, organizations and attractions. On Wednesday, representatives of several prominent Itawamba County organizations – the Itawamba County Development Council, MSU-Itawamba Extension Service, Itawamba County Master Gardeners and the Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition of Itawamba and Monroe counties – greeted visitors at the welcome center as part of “Itawamba County Day.” Their goal: Drive some of that traffic to local businesses.

“Each year, we try to have local people from our local attractions come out and promote what they have for the tourists,” explained Ann Miller, supervisor at the Itawamba County Welcome Center. “That’s what we’re here for, to push and promote our local attractions.”

That includes providing visitors – in the neighborhood of 388,000 last year, more than any other Mississippi welcome center – with information about eateries, hotels and attractions in Itawamba County, Tupelo and other nearby municipalities.

“You’d be surprised at how many people don’t even know Elvis is from Tupelo,” Miller said. “They think he’s from Memphis.”

According to the logbook for that day, more than 760 people stepped into the welcome center, representing visitors from a handful of states and countries.

“We had the pleasure of meeting tourists traveling from the UK, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Colorado, Florida and so many other places,” said ICDC executive director Vaunita Martin, who spent the day handing our brochures and moon pies. “These tourists were here on vacation, visiting family, and a large number were traveling to attend graduations. Our welcome center is the first welcome to our visitors not just to Itawamba County but also to the State of Mississippi.”

Martin said the response to the welcome center was highly complimentary.

“We heard over and over again that our Itawamba Welcome Center was by far the most beautiful and most welcoming one the tourists had ever visited,” she said. “That’s important because it is the very first impression our tourists receive.”

A longtime proponent of the important role tourism plays in growing an economy, Martin said the impact of these first impressions cannot be overestimated.

“These visitors will go back home and share this with all their friends and family, giving us the opportunity for more visitors coming to Itawamba County,” she said. “Visitors bring opportunities for our county and its businesses to acquire positive publicity and increased revenue.”

Visitors spend money in local businesses, and that’s revenue that’s not just being recycled in the community in which it was earned. Economists are fond of calling this kind of money “outside revenue,” and it helps bolster the economy tremendously.

“This new form of income allows for diversifying the income of the county you’re visiting. It brings the opportunity for local officials to increase budgets for infrastructure and schools,” Martin said.

“Itawamba County Day” was just part of a week’s worth of guests. The welcome center also hosted representatives from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Oxford Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, the Tupelo Community Development Foundation and the Natchez Trace Parkway. Twitter: @admarmr

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