hed: Tourists pump more money into Tupelo's economy

By Stephen Singer

Daily Journal

Special events in Tupelo filled a gap created by a drop in convention and trade show business, drawing tourists and visitors who pumped nearly $2 million more into the local economy this year, the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau reported Monday.

Tourists spent $47.8 million in Tupelo in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Spending at tourist sites, motels, restaurants and related businesses was up by about $1.8 million, or 4 percent more than in fiscal year 1995.

"What's significant about this is that we did not have the big conventions we had last year," said Sam E. Fleming Jr. executive director of the visitors bureau.

More than 70 events, including the All-American Family Picnic and Olympic Celebration, Gumtree Festival and Run, Tupelo Hog Roast, Mississippi Marching Band Festival and Mississippi Lone Star Rodeo drew 367,253 visitors, according to the annual report.

Spending at the special events totaled $27.5 million, or 57.5 percent, of all tourist dollars spent in Tupelo.

That made up for fewer larger gatherings.

The top five conventions that met in Tupelo in the most recent fiscal year were the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Annual Meeting, American Legion, Mississippi National Guard and Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee. The five conventions drew 2,550 visitors.

In contrast, just two events in the previous fiscal year - the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and Mississippi Association of Supervisors - drew nearly 3,000 visitors.

The report said 168 conventions during the year drew 17,116 visitors.

The analysis did not compare the number of visitors with the number who came to Tupelo the previous fiscal year, but reported that spending at conventions and trade shows was down by $3.5 million.

The February and August Tupelo Furniture Markets combined drew 43,000 visitors, more than half the 78,750 visitors who attended 15 trade shows.

The impact of tourists' dollars on the local economy is an estimate. The visitors bureau calculates the number of visitors who attended events with the length of time local inns report visitor stays and an estimated amount of money tourists spend during their visits.

The report was prepared by Bobby King Associates Inc. of Tupelo.

The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum was, again, Tupelo's top tourist attracting, drawing 99,106 visitors in the fiscal year, up by more than 2,000 from the previous year.

"I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about Elvis Presley, but it brings a lot of people," Fleming said.

The Natchez Trace Visitors Center was the next biggest attraction, drawing 55,882 visitors.

Tupelo Coliseum events drew $10.1 million, up by about 4.5 percent from the previous year. Amid much community protest, KISS was the fourth highest draw, with an audience of 7,965, according to the report.

George Strait was the top attraction at the coliseum, packing in 9,150 fans.

Reba McEntire, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alan Jackson also were among the top five performers who appeared at the coliseum

Fleming believes tourism dollars will continue to increase. "The future really looks super," he said.

Fleming cited improvements at the Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield that he expects will bring more tourists. He also said continued expansion to four lanes along U.S. Highway 45 will draw visitors from Florida and other areas south and east of Mississippi.

Emy Bullard, director of the Corinth Area Tourism Promotion Council, said Corinth, Brice's Crossroads and the Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, Tenn., are linked in cooperative efforts to draw more tourists.

Zack Stewart, Northern District Transportation Commissioner for the state Department of Transportation, said all construction on U.S. Highway 45 will be under contract by 1999. The third phase of construction, from State Line to Pascagoula, is expected to open by 2002 at the earliest, he said.

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