BY M. SCOTT MORRIS

Daily Journal

TUPELO Expect increased competition and collaboration when the Hilton Garden Inn and BancorpSouth Conference Center opens on Friday.

The facility will provide a new set of meeting rooms for potential clients to use.

That could cut into business for the BancorpSouth Center meeting rooms, as well as The Summit convention center, formerly the Ramada Inn convention center.

"Anytime a new competitor comes to town, obviously, it will take some business away," said Jimmy Pappas, owner and general manager of The Summit. "We just hope to see some growth in Tupelo to make up for the losses."

Shari Long, sales director for the Hilton Garden Inn and its conference center, plans to focus on attracting new groups and organizations to town.

"We're targeting association executives," she said. "We're targeting corporate accounts."

Price point

Kevan Kirkpatrick, marketing director for the BancorpSouth Center, said advertising deals with the Daily Journal, Comcast, Clear Channel and WTVA/WLOV/WKDH have increased meeting room awareness and business.

The publicity effort netted $64,295 during the 2005-06 fiscal year, which beat out the previous year by about $18,000.

Long said she expects the Hilton Garden Inn to attract about six times that amount.

"I anticipate we'll be doing meeting room business in two months that they do in a year," she said.

The lower price points for the BancorpSouth Center and The Summit should help retain a significant portion their current business.

The Summit has provided meeting space since the 1970s, and Pappas expects that history to work in his favor.

"We have not changed our course," he said. "We have been keeping in touch with our existing customers."

David Skinner, executive director of the BancorpSouth Center, said the Hilton Garden Inn should bring events to Tupelo that make use of his facility's arena, as well as the hotel's convention space.

"We feel the relationship will be complementary in nature, rather than competitive in nature," Skinner said.

Contact M. Scott Morris at 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com

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