A secret that needs to be sharedPublished 10:55am Friday, April 4, 2014
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Tourism is big business, and Brookhaven needs to cash in.
“The comment I get a lot is, ‘You’re the best kept secret in Mississippi,’ and that saddens me – that means we don’t have the dollars to market that message,” says the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce’s Kay Burton.
A tax on stays in local hotels, motels and bed and breakfast establishments could change that. The Mississippi Legislature has approved a local option 2 percent lodging tax bill for Brookhaven, and Gov. Phil Bryant signed it last week. Now if voters will approve the tax in as-yet-to-be-determined local election, the city will have funds for marketing tourism in Brookhaven and Lincoln County.
So far, local tourism promoters like Burton have had to make do with volunteer labor and donated services and materials for pushing tourism in the Homeseekers Paradise.
And that’s just what she did Wednesday when the Madison Garden Club came calling with a group of more than 40 members who wanted to make a bus tour to Brookhaven.
Burton worked up an agenda for the ladies and got local alderman and Master Gardener Shirley Estes to volunteer her services as a tour guide.
Estes said Thursday she got “very, very positive comments” from the Madison group about Brookhaven. “They said we were a secret they wanted to tell everyone about,” Estes said.
And telling people has been basically the only way local event promoters have been able to spread the word about Brookhaven’s hidden assets. “It’s just word of mouth,” Burton agreed, when it comes to marketing right now. “We do not have a budget for it.”
But all that could change with a little funding to grease the wheels of tourism. Every garden club member, every visiting softball or baseball player, every out-of-towner who comes here for a festival like Ole Brook or a shopping event like Girls Night Out spends money while he or she is in the city.
The Madison clubwomen, for example, crossed South Jackson Street and made purchases at J. Allan’s when they finished touring Ole Town Church. Then the 40-plus women each bought lunch at Pasta Junction, and later they spent more money at Buds and Blooms.
They also probably had to have their tour bus gassed up while they were here, and more than likely they bought bottles of water, a Diet Coke or two and maybe a snack somewhere, too. How many times did the dollars turn over from those 40-plus visitors during that single day trip?
“It’s a huge economic impact for our city … just for a day,” Burton agrees.
And that group’s visit was not an isolated event. “We have quite a few to call and get information, and I put a packet together,” Burton said. “They want to see the historic homes, the School of the Arts. They ask about the places to eat and the places to shop. We just have a pretty incredible package for groups.”
One trip can easily lead to another, too. “I had two [from the Madison group] ask about arts and crafts,” Burton said. She told them about the Ole Brook Festival and they said, “We’ll be back.”
And then Burton adds the important punch line, “Imagine what an impact we would have with a budget. That’s what the tourism tax could do.”
Rachel Eide is editor/general manager of The Daily Leader. Contact her at email@example.com.