Jackson Honored with MS Tourism Awards

September 24, 2019

Incoming MTA President Annette Rand, Thigpen and Visit Mississippi Executive Director Craig Ray.

Visit Jackson and our industry partners were the recipients of six of fifteen tourism industry awards given by the Mississippi Tourism Association (MTA) at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism held at the Trotter Convention Center in Columbus, MS on Sept. 22-24, 2019.

As a top honor, Rickey Thigpen, President and CEO of Visit Jackson, was awarded MTA Member of the Year. As a Jackson native, Thigpen has served Visit Jackson for over 31 years, and in his first year as Executive Director, Thigpen has initiated and/or implemented:

• Mayor’s Conference on Tourism

• Development/Implementation of five separate advisory boards, so that stakeholder input could be included in the true mission and vision of Visit Jackson

• Completed overhaul and/or revision of the previous Strategic Plan, Marketing Plan and Sponsorship Programs

• Re-evaluated Sales Protocols, leading the way to an increase in sales opportunities

• Enhanced value and relationship with stakeholders, legislators and city government

• My City Campaign – to promote pride amongst the citizens of Jackson, and

• Researched and invested in the industry-respected Destination International Economic Impact Calculator, bringing up-to-date EEI calculations.

Thigpen has earned professional certifications from the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi Tourism Association and Destination International. He has appeared in Black Meetings & Tourism magazine as one of the most influential African Americans in the tourism industry multiple times.

Thigpen is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology; finalizing degree requirements in Psychology/Organizational Behavior & Leadership discipline. He currently serves on five boards including the Mississippi Tourism Association Board of Directors & Chairman of the Tourism Mississippi PAC Board and Downtown Jackson Partners where he is focusing on a plan to eradicate homelessness in the city of Jackson.

The Tourism Investment Award was given to Ted Duckworth and Breck Hines for The District Eastover. In 2011, the development sought to become a mixed-use destination, providing family-friendly entertainment, dining and shopping to locals as well as visitors. The concept also includes a business class hotel, Residence Inn by Marriot. In January 2019, they opened Cultivation Food Hall, home to ten first-to-market food and drink concepts. The food hall is the state’s first and only food hall, attracting the curious and those seasoned travelers who have experienced the modern food hall concept in other destinations around the country.

The Travel Attraction of the Year Award was given for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Spirits of the Passage special exhibit. In December 2017, MDAH opened the two Mississippi Museums, a 200,000-square foot complex housing the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which is the first state-supported and operated civil rights museum in the nation. From Feb. 1, 2019, through Aug. 11, 2019, the museums displayed Spirits of the Passage: The Story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a traveling exhibit on loan from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. The exhibit attracted more than 18,000 visitors.

Winner of the Large Festival/Event of the Year was the USA IBC Ballet Competition. The 11th USA IBC opened June 10, 2018, at Thalia Mara Hall. The Gertrude C. Ford Opening Ceremony introduced the 100 competitors from 17 countries in an event held every four years in Jackson, one of the oldest and most respected dance competitions in the world. Attendance for the two-week competition and related events was approximately 40,400. The ticket holders were from 35 states and 25 nations. The event generated in-state spending of more than $9.3 million, a payroll impact of more than $4.5 million and contributed $416,491 to the state general fund through tax revenues, for a combined economic impact approaching $12.5 million.

The award for Small Festival/Event of the Year went to Cathead Jam. The fourth annual Cathead Jam brought in nearly 4,000 people of all ages from 21 U.S. states. The festival has shown continued growth and provides a great attraction for out-of-town guests which always drives an increase in Jackson’s hotel and restaurant sales. As part of Cathead’s mission to keep local music alive, the festival reinforces the narrative that Mississippi’s musical legacy is alive and well. Since their founding in 2010, Cathead Vodka, the first legal distillery in Mississippi since Prohibition’s end, has been a hub for many events and activities that draw large crowds.

The “Follow Me to Jackson” Influencer Campaign won the award for Social Media Campaign of the Year. Visit Jackson tasked social media and online influencers with promoting the City of Jackson through a first-person narrative of words, images and video that featured the experiences that appeared on each influencer’s customized Jackson itinerary. The resulting experiences were published to the blog, discoverjxn.ms, a site dedicated to the campaign. The hashtag, #followmetojackson, furthered the ability for social media followers to tie the campaign together and create their own travel plans. The campaign boasts over 500,000 engagements since its beginning.

The annual MTA Governor’s Conference, an educational and professional development event, brought together more than 250 tourism industry professionals from across the state as well as tourism partners from the surrounding region.

The awards program gives MTA the opportunity to recognize the best of the best from their 300(+-) member organization. Awards were presented in 15 categories, each focusing on a different aspect of the hospitality industry or individual achievement.