Thursday, November 22, 2007
Three year strategic plan presented, website launched
Officials of the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance (MHHAA) met with partners and stakeholders Thursday at the BancorpSouth Conference Center to present details of a recently completed three-year strategic plan, which calls for the utilization of a “string of pearls” approach to cultural and heritage tourism development within the region. In conjunction, a new promotional website, www.mississippihills.org, was formally launched.
Following the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s four-step approach for successful heritage tourism development, the strategic plan will guide stakeholders as they build their cultural and heritage tourism product. The plan lays out the specific steps necessary to grow the $850 million currently spent by visitors in the region, and, among other things, calls for partners to 1.) Assess their Potential, 2.) Plan and Organize, 3.) Prepare, Protect and Manage and 4.) Market for Success.
The “string of pearls” approach recommended by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities is similar to the cluster approach used widely in the automobile manufacturing industry, where key suppliers are situated in close proximity to the main plant. From a tourism development standpoint, the “pearls” -- individual sites and attractions -- are connected by unifying thematic threads running throughout the region, linking assets such as museums, historic homes and special events. This approach allows consumers to “travel by interest” and allows partners to create exciting new products.
“Research comparing the cultural and heritage traveler to other visitors shows that they extend their visits an average of 5.2 nights versus 3.4 nights,” said Kent Bain, MHHAA project coordinator. “At $623 per visit versus $457, they spend more, and they typically visit more than one area. The new strategic plan will be utilized over the next three years to help communities attract more heritage tourists.”
The new website developed by the Alliance, www.mississippihills.org, is a collection of cultural assets, products and stories from across the heritage area. Utilizing the site, a visitor can explore the hills by interest, theme or geography and use a custom trip planner to create an area itinerary all their own.
“The hills hold many treasures for the great state of Mississippi and working collaboratively through this unique partnership, we have more opportunities to share them with tourists from all over the United States and abroad,” said Gloria Kellum, Ph.D., vice chancellor for University Relations at the University of Mississippi and partner on the MHHAA initiative. “We are proud to be a part of the MHHAA and look forward to realizing the impact that will result from this on-going alliance as it positions to strengthen and grow.”
The boundaries of the heritage area are defined by the Tennessee and Alabama state lines to the north and east, Highway 14 to the south and Interstate 55 to the west. One of the primary missions of the MHHAA, formed in 2004, is to transform the region into a nationally-competitive visitor destination by aiding the region’s communities in conserving, interpreting, developing and promoting their rich cultural, historic, natural and recreational heritage. Alliance efforts should also benefit the over 15,000 people directly employed in the tourism industry within the region.
“It’s great to see the state and local public and private sector leadership standing together to support this partnership,” said Mary Beth Wilkerson, deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) Tourism Division. “Our relationship with the MHHAA has been most productive as well as enjoyable. I commend the leadership role demonstrated by everyone involved with this project.”
The strategic plan and website were funded in large through an $110,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant. According to Mike Armour, state director for ARC, this project goes hand-in-hand with the mission of the Commission and existing MDA Tourism initiatives. Matching funds in excess of $100,000 were provided by the MDA’s Tourism Division, the CREATE Foundation, the University of Mississippi and the Oxford Convention & Visitors Bureau. The grant was administered by the CREATE Foundation
“We are glad Governor Barbour and the ARC were able to help with a small startup grant. Our region has so much to offer, and we appreciate all the hard work that the MHHAA has done,” said Armour.
(Submitted by Stephanie Morve, Holly Springs Tourism Bureau. Used By Permission from the office of MHHAA; Contact: Kent Bain email@example.com; Original Release Date: Nov. 1, 2007)
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