Climbers Club hosts Tourism Committee chair

Published 10:14 am Friday, April 15, 2016

Climbers Club members gathered in the home of Kathy Behan with anticipation for the next speaker in the club’s “Celebrate Mississippi” program series Thursday afternoon.

The club hosted a program featuring the chair of the Mississippi Senate Tourism Committee, Lydia Chassaniol of Winona. Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, was in attendance as well. It served as a way to educate the women of Brookhaven on the impact tourism has on the state.

Lydia Chassaniol

Lydia Chassaniol

Chassaniol has served as the chair of the tourism committee for the last nine years and thoroughly enjoys it, she said. Tourism involves the movie industry, the music industry, the food and beverage industry, history, parks, horse shows, hunting and fishing sports and much more, Chassaniol said.

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Tourism has a big impact on the state’s economy by bringing in more than $6 billion a year, Chassaniol said.

“They capture these figures through what is spent in hotels, restaurants and all of the outdoor sports venues,” Chassaniol said. “When they capture these figures they try to use it to promote funding in the Legislature for the tourism industry.”

In 2015, there were more than 22 million visitors to Mississippi, Chassaniol said.

“We have fewer than 3 million people living in the state of Mississippi, so to have 22 million come to see us is pretty good,” she said. “According to the Mississippi Development Authority Department of Tourism, which they call ‘Visit Mississippi’ now, the tourism industry earns nearly $13 for every $1 we spend on trying to promote and develop it. We do not spend much money promoting tourism in Mississippi and that is something they would like us to do.”

Chassaniol used the movie “The Help,” as an example of how tourism helps the people of Mississippi and its overall economic development.

“Greenwood, Mississippi, was where a lot of the picture was filmed and where the cast and crew all stayed,” Chassaniol said. “While they were filming in Greenwood, someone was smart enough to figure out that they paid the crew members every Friday in $50 bills. They started getting the banks to check and see how many $50 bills came through on Fridays. Based on that, $15 million was dropped in Greenwood during that six- to eight-week time. Well it was in 2010, and as you can recall we were still in a really bad recession. I had folks come up to me and say, ‘If it hadn’t of been for that movie, we might have shut down,’ because the economy was that bad.”

The movie industry in Mississippi has begun to boom, with more movies being produced in the last five years than the 10 before, and that all contributes to the tourism industry, Chassaniol said.

Chassaniol said she has used her position to promote cultural and heritage tourism in Mississippi.  The Cotesworth Plantation in Carrollton has been a large, worthwhile accomplishment during her tenure on the tourism committee, she said.

Carroll County lawyer and U.S. Sen. James Zachariah George purchased several hundred acres of farmland and a roadside inn more than 150 years ago, Chassaniol said. George enlarged the inn to create a mansion for his wife and nine children, she said.

The George family owned Cotesworth for generations until George’s great-granddaughter, Katharine Saunders Williams, decided to sell the home in 2013, Chassaniol said.

“I got here on the telephone, and she told me what the price was — she had had everything appraised — she said, ‘If you can buy it for a private foundation and not for profit, I’ll make y’all a better price.’ It took about three years to get the money, but now Cotesworth belongs to a private foundation.”

The Cotesworth Culture and Heritage Center now serves as another magnificent, historical home for Mississippi to share with the world, Chassaniol said. Phase one renovations to the home are almost complete and the first set of weddings will begin this year, she said.

Chassaniol promoted the opening of the new history museum and Civil Rights Museum in Jackson by the end of 2017. She also encouraged the women of the Climbers Club to begin brainstorming ways to host a Mississippi bicentennial celebration in Brookhaven next year.

On a final note, Chassaniol said those in charge of promoting tourism are pushing through the negative reaction to HB 1523 from other states.

“Like all legislation, I think it’s going to have some immediate effect,” Chassaniol said. “I believe it will be up to those of us to promote tourism to make sure that people keep coming to Mississippi and realize that everyone is welcome in Mississippi.”