Diverse Tourism Boosts Tupelo Businesses, Residents

When a busload of Germans descends on Elvis Presley’s birthplace, it’s hard not to share their enthusiasm for the King. The same goes for a carload of Australians at the Tupelo Automobile Museum or a motor coach of Kansans stretching their legs in the historic downtown.

Tourists bring a fresh perspective, as well as plenty of spending money, to Tupelo every year. They help support a thriving restaurant and retail community downtown and throughout the city, as well as fill city coffers so residents benefit from a growing cultural scene as well as lower taxes for everyday municipal services. In short, a win-win for everyone, says Jack Reed Jr., the fourth-generation owner of downtown’s legendary Reed’s Department Store, itself a tourism destination as well as a shopping hub.

“In a very practical sense, things that happen downtown allow people to walk up to our store,” Reed says. “We’ve been here for 109 years, so many people come to see the vintage photographs we have on display as well as do some shopping. Either way, we benefit from their being here.”

Visitors Boost Community in Many Ways

Because tourism is a steady business, most residents don’t realize the scope of its impact, says Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.

 “The 2 percent tourism tax paid on hotel rooms, food and beverages helps fund marketing throughout the world, bringing more visitors to Tupelo,” Brangenberg says. “It also serves as seed money for festivals, new events and other entertainment venues. If you compare this to other communities that do not have a concentrated effort to market tourism and hospitality, you will find a community that is struggling.”

The industry feeds on itself, with successful restaurants and other destinations bringing in more visitors, and eventually more similar businesses, says Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau, who points out that tourism’s economic impact was more than $74 million in 2012. 

“Lee County ranks third in the state for tourism capital investment,” McCoy says. “Tourism provides a tax relief to each household in Lee County of more than $500, which frees up income to spend in local restaurants, retail venues and more.”

Tourism Serves as Biz-Recruiting Tool

The quality-of-life aspect of tourism also is a bonus for locals and visitors, and serves to help recruit business and industry as well.

“In terms of industry recruitment, quality of life is a key piece of the puzzle,” McCoy says. “A city with a variety of exciting quality-of-life options is attractive to companies looking to locate in an area because it will provide a great place for its team members to reside. But it doesn't just happen. It takes creative thinking, an intentional effort of collaboration and, most of all, communication to create great spaces and places for visitors and citizens alike.”

And, Brangenberg says, “It is always so gratifying when a volunteer at any of our events is thrilled to meet someone from another part of the country or a country abroad. These exchanges have brought about lifelong friendships.”

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