The Hattiesburg Convention and Tourism Commissions have helped Hattiesburg’s economy achieve record tourism and visitor growth over the past 20 years. In fact, annual visitor spending has more than doubled from $131 million in 1996 to $268 million in 2015. While each commission has had a vital role in community success, they operate as separate entities, each having its own special tax legislation for specific purposes.
The Mississippi Legislature enacted House Bill 1717 and Senate Bill 3367 to authorize the establishment of these commissions, paving the way for both tourism and facility development in Hattiesburg.Mississippi House Bill 1717 authorized a special 2% hotel tax to help provide operating funds for a commission (VISITHATTIESBURG) to promote tourism. The Mississippi Miss Hospitality program is a for-profit program run under VISITHATTIESBURG (The Hattiesburg Tourism Commission). The program has generated a profit for the entire 18 years it has been hosted in Hattiesburg, while also having a total economic impact of more than $8.1 million in the local community during this time.
The winner of the Mississippi Miss Hospitality program serves as the state’s Goodwill Ambassador for tourism and economic development. Sponsorships, ad sales, fees, and admissions fully fund the Miss Hospitality program and its award package, including jewelry and wardrobe items.
“Hattiesburg has been the proud and grateful host city of the Mississippi Miss Hospitality program for the last 18 years. I’ve had the privilege of being involved from the beginning, helping move the pageant to our community. There has been some confusion in the media on how special wardrobe and Tiffany & Co. jewelry have been funded. The program is a self-contained operation under the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission and pays for these items with proceeds from the pageant. Miss Hospitality is not affiliated with the special 2% tax on restaurants in any way. Leading the public to believe part of their restaurant bill in Hattiesburg paid for Tiffany jewelry, sunglasses, or any other items associated with Miss Hospitality is disappointing and simply not true,” said Bonnie Warren, Hattiesburg Tourism Commissioner and Miss Hospitality board member. “We work hard each year to make the Miss Hospitality program a positive experience for the talented young women who participate as contestants, while also showcasing our beautiful city of Hattiesburg, The University of Southern Mississippi and our Saenger Theater to the numerous visitors here for the program. We look forward to many more years of continued success,” added Warren.
The Hattiesburg Convention Commission oversees the operations and development of six Hattiesburg venues and functions under separate legislation. Senate Bill 3367 authorized a special 2% tax on restaurants and package liquor sales for the purpose of providing funds for construction, furnishing, and operation of Hattiesburg’s convention and tourism facilities. These six facilities include Lake Terrace Convention Center, The Hattiesburg Zoo, The Visitors Center, The African American Military History Museum, The Eureka School, and the Historic Saenger Theater.Combined, these venues employ 140 Mississippians, who hosted more than 452,000 visitors in 2015, including 45,000 elementary school students during field trips. In addition to tax dollar funding from restaurants, $3.1 million in revenue was generated from venue admissions, ticket sales, sponsorships, and grants.
ABOUT THE HATTIESBURG TOURISM COMMISSION AND THE HATTIESBURG CONVENTION COMMISSION:Established in 1990, the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission (HTC), doing business asVISITHATTIESBURGTM, is the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) of the City of Hattiesburg. Created to promote the Greater Hattiesburg Area and itstourism industry to potential visitors, the mission of VISITHATTIESBURGTM is toincrease the economic impact of these visitors on the local economy. For more information, visit www.visithattiesburg.org.Since 1991, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission has been developing and operating tourism-related facilities for the Hattiesburg area. In the late 1980s, an idea was conceived for an economic development tool that would draw new money to Hattiesburg. That idea was a volunteer group of business and community leaders who would put their experience, business acumen and dedication to Hattiesburg to work for the good of all of the citizens of Hattiesburg. For more information, visit www.hattiesburgconventioncommission.com.