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Tourism director: What says Meridian'?

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
July 16, 2001
The lonesome yodel of Jimmie Rodgers, the mournful wail of a train and the proud cheer of victory at State Games of Mississippi may be part of Meridian's identity for years to come but Meridian officials are searching for new symbols as well.
Allison Beasley, director of the Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau, joined The Meridian Star's editorial board to discuss who the area's tourists are, what they come to see and do and how tourism officials can market the area better to attract more visitors.
Beasley said the bureau's recently-hired advertising agency, Leading Edges Marketing, is helping "brand" Meridian.
Defining tourists
Beasley said her definition of a tourist is "anybody from out of town, whether it be a business traveler, a group traveler or a leisure traveler."
Beasley said tourism statistics usually reflect overnight visitors. Though people on day-trips are welcome visitors as well, she said marketing efforts usually extend beyond a 30-mile radius.
About 750,000 tourists come to stay in Meridian's 1,600 hotel rooms each year, she said.
Meridian has business travelers, Beasley said, but can't compete with conference destinations like the Gulf Coast and Jackson or right next door at the Silver Star Resort and Casino because it doesn't have the capacity for large conferences.
Beasley said the proximity of the Silver Star, however, does help the Meridian area.
She said tourism employees work with local hotels to bid on conferences and provide services once business tourists arrive. They make name tags, help with registration and give them literature about restaurants and things to do while they're here.
Biggest attractions
Beasley said sporting events draw Meridian's biggest crowds. State Games obviously has the greatest economic impact, she said, but State Games is also an opportunity to sell people on other tournaments and athletic events.
The Sunfish Summer Triathlon on the weekend of July 7 attracted almost 400 participants, 360 of whom were tourists. Close to 90 from Louisiana. Others came from Florida, Arkansas, Alabama and even one from Colorado, she said.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.