Thursday, September 7, 2006
Thomas retiring from tourism
By SUE WATSON
The executive director to the Holly Springs Tourism Bureau is retiring.
Jimmy Thomas, who has held the position the last four years, and was a newcomer to the city, said he and his wife Martha are looking forward to traveling and spending more time on other interests.
In a glance backward over his accomplishments, Thomas said having something available for visitors to do was his proudest achievement while serving as tourism director.
He also believes the tourism bureau has helped change the image of Holly Springs.
“Hopefully, I’ve changed the image of the tourism bureau,” he said.
Mike Lynn, president of the tourism bureau’s board of directors, agreed.
“That was my goal and I told the board we needed to change the image due to the past history of the bureau,” Lynn said. “The bureau had to recapture the confidence of the public. And by bringing in Jimmy we were able to do that a lot quicker than most people thought.
“I think the most important thing here is Jimmy was executive director during the time Holly Springs opened its doors to the public. Prior to Jimmy coming on board, we were not a tourist destination site, and during his tenure we have definitely become a major tourist attraction in the state. So at the end of his tenure we now enjoy visitors coming to our city every day and those numbers are increasing week to week.
“His greatest contribution was really the opening of the city to tourism that made us a tourist destination site. We are finally being recognized as one of the major tourist attractions in the state and that is his most important contribution.”
Some immediate changes made at the bureau when Thomas arrived dealt with the appearance of the bureau’s headquarters, located in the heart of the downtown historic district.
A welcome flag and the American flag now fly at the Tourism Bureau. The shutters are open. A new sign was added. Landscaping has been changed several times.
Thomas said these changes helped improve the impression visitors get when they come to the bureau.
Visitors also needed something to do, and Thomas helped develop a simple walking and driving tour of the city. That tour has been revised and expanded to include a walking/driving tour brochure which visitors can follow on their own.
The opening of Strawberry Plains for daily tours helped Holly Springs extend its hand of hospitality to visitors.
“Luckily, Strawberry Plains opened for daily tours and the bureau does on-demand tours there five days a week,” Thomas said.
The tourism brochure was trimmed down so it was less costly to produce and mail. Thomas said that did a lot to contain costs at the bureau.
The opening of Walter Place Estates, Cottages and Gardens is the latest big attraction to Holly Springs, Thomas said, with some visitors coming only for that tour.
“I only had a minor part in that,” Thomas said.
Advertising is a big ticket item in the bureau’s budget. Thomas said two billboards were added, one on the east and the other on the west side of Holly Springs along U.S. 78. Before, the Chamber of Commerce was paying for the billboards, but now the tourism bureau has taken over that expense. The bureau also places advertisements in national and regional magazines.
A shortcoming, Thomas said, is that every visitor who comes to Holly Springs does not come to the tourism office for more information on attractions.
“Some come to one place only,” he said. “The main thing is they are coming here.”
The Thomases moved to Holly Springs in 1991 to get out of the big city of Memphis. Jimmy had worked 25 years in sales in the paper product industry. Martha is still with FedEx but expects to retire next year.
The Thomases have one son who works for FedEx in Dallas.
Thomas said he has had an interest in genealogy for 10 years and after retirement, he wants to spend more time researching the Thomas family, a people from Wales, who settled in Virginia.
His mother’s ancestors settled in the Hudson River Valley in the 1600s and wound up on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War and moved to Canada. His mother’s family immigrated back to the United States in the 1920s to Michigan.
His grandfather on his mother’s side worked as an engineer for General Motors.
“I want to go to some of the places in Virginia and do more research,” he said. “Garrie Colhoun and I are going to Virginia in November and look for one of the old Thomas cemeteries close to Charlotsville.
The Thomases are also discussing travel to the Canadian Rockies, Alaska and various places in the northwestern United States.
Thomas said he will continue on for a while as part-time acting director of the bureau until the board hires a new executive director.
Current members of the board are new members Jennifer Blaker and Chris Liddy, and Ralph Howard, Fannie Lampley, Mike Lynn, Maia Miller and Judy Otto. There is one vacancy on the board, to be appointed by Mayor Andre’ DeBerry.
Thomas said board members have to be involved a lot.
“They have to be willing to come over here and make some hard decisions on some things,” he said. “It’s been an honor to work with this board, which has been very unified,” he said. “They come to a consensus and vote.
“To be honest, there has never been a harsh word. That shows something about the folks on the board.”
Some recent efforts that Thomas believes will help tourism growth in Holly Springs are the recent visit of the State Legislative Committee on Tourism and an upcoming visit of 35 employees with the Mississippi Welcome Centers.
He said Welcome Center employees who have experienced Holly Springs first hand are able to talk to visitors about Holly Springs.
Thomas said his pride and joy of all the things he has done at the bureau is getting the Van Dorn Trail markers installed - all paid for with private donations.
“Those markers have been up a full year and the thing that amazes me is the number of people I see reading them,” he said.
The Tourism Bureau is funded by a local tourism tax. The two cents on the dollar tourism tax provides one penny for tourism and one penny to pay off the bond on the Eddie Lee Smith Multi-Purpose Building. Thomas said the bureau had a budget of about $90,000 a year when he arrived. With tourism growth, the yearly budget is $110,000 plus a year, he said.
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