This week the new Westin in downtown Jackson welcomed Senator Roger Wicker for a discussion on the travel and tourism industry in Mississippi. The Senator met with 22 local and statewide leaders invited to participate by Visit Mississippi.
Joseph Simpson, the owner of the Westin, kicked off the roundtable and spoke to the importance of tourism for Mississippi. As the newest addition to the tourism industry in Jackson, the Westin represents the state’s commitment to investing in the industry. The Mississippi tourism rebate program allows additions and improvements like this to happen in Jackson. The program refunds about 3/4 of the sales tax that the owner of a business collects in August and February up to a certain percentage of the total project.
The group agreed that it is policies like this that are allowing the industry to grow across Mississippi. Also critical to the tourism industry, is an investment in marketing and promotion. The Senator heard from the attendees that the state’s marketing budget is less than $3 million, the lowest of any state in the southeast, making it difficult for the state to attract visitors. The leaders emphasized the hefty return on investment from tourism marketing dollars and all shared the same goal of working to increase the budget.
The representative from the Jackson-Evers International Airport spent time highlighting the airport’s need for critical improvements and what a raise in the Passenger Facility Charge cap would mean for the airport. He also mentioned that they need the Senator’s support on protecting Open Skies agreements so Jackson can expand both domestic and international routes. Expanding air service to Mississippi is a top priority as there are so few flights to the area that businesses take it upon themselves to charter visitors in.
Tourism in Jackson and the state of Mississippi is critical to jobs, businesses, and economic growth. Through infrastructure improvements, tourism marketing budgets, and new travel projects, Mississippi’s industry leaders are fully committed to increasing the impact of tourism on the state. Senator Wicker has also been a great supporter of the travel industry and it was wonderful to host both him and his wife, Gayle, at Jackson’s newest hotel property.