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Jackson tourism tax revenues remain flat while other cities grew during decade

MURAL: A mural welcomes visitors to Jackson. Photo by Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Jackson's tourism numbers as expressed with tourism tax revenue have remained largely static over the last decade while other cities in the state have enjoyed massive growth, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

Local tourism taxes are assessed on restaurants and hotels and are one measure of the state of local tourism since they represent meals consumed and hotel stays by visitors. From 2007 to 2017, Jackson's tourism tax revenue increased only 8.6 percent.

FLAT: There's been only an 8.6 percent increase in tourism tax revenues for Jackson since 2007. Graph by Steve Wilson

In contrast, other cities have enjoyed substantial growth in their tourism tax revenues:

  • During the same time, Starkville and Oktibbeha County's tourism tax revenues have increased 64 percent.

  • Ridgeland's tourism tax revenues went up 59 percent during the decade.

  • Since 2007, Tupelo's revenues are up 51 percent.

  • Natchez has seen a 43.4 percent increase.

  • Vicksburg's tourism tax revenues are up 26.9 percent since 2007.

  • Columbus's tax revenues have increased 23.2 percent.

The opening of the state's two new museums in December also hasn't had the impact on Jackson's tourism tax revenues that could've been expected. With a few weeks left before the end of the fiscal year, tourism tax revenues for Jackson for the year so far have decreased slightly from $3.23 million in 2017 to $3.22 million this year.

Jackson's 1-cent tax on restaurants and hotels is the primary source of revenue for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau, which was created by the Mississippi Legislature in 1983.

State Sen. John Horhn (D-Jackson) says an upcoming evaluation of Jackson's CVB by either the state's Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review or an another outside group is needed.

Horhn says Jackson is facing increasing competition from improvements made in Jackson metro communities like Brandon (new amphitheater), Ridgeland (new hotels) and Pearl (Trustmark Park and the Bass Pro Shop).

"All around the capitol city, we're seeing this intense activity and I think it's time for the bureau to reassess its position in the marketplace and what it needs to be doing differently to attract more visitors into the Capitol City," Horhn said.

"There are a lot of questions and I think that leads back to the board and the leadership and whether the leadership is on autopilot or is actively working to make Jackson competitive."

Making the disparity between Jackson's tourism numbers and the other cities even more glaring is the comparison between the size of their respective CVB staffs.

The Jackson CVB has the largest staff of any convention and visitors bureau in the state with 19 full-time and four part-time employees. Horhn said that some of its resources might need to be redeployed to help with Jackson's Convention Center. Last year, the CVB spent 37 percent of its budget on personnel costs.

Jackson's CVB staff even outstrips the Mississippi Development Authority's tourism promotion group, Visit Mississippi, which has 12 employees and two open positions.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, which represents the entire coast, has 12 employees. Tupelo's convention and visitors bureau has a dozen employees as well.

Natchez and Starkville have five employees apiece.

The Legislature added an amendment for the independent review to the bill that reauthorized the 1-percent tax that funds the CVB. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill into law on April 12.

The CVB originally asked the Jackson City Council for a 1-percent increase in December, but was rebuffed when the council voted to ask the Legislature to reauthorize the existing tax without an increase.

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