Visit Jackson Receives Top Honor at Gov's Tourism Conference

December 2, 2020

Visit JacksonPresident and CEO Rickey Thigpen, Vice President of Finance/Operations Jennifer Chance, Vice President of Convention Sales & Services Shun Hatten and Vice President of Marketing Jonathan Pettus accept MTA Awards in ceremonies Wednesday in Biloxi.

Visit Jackson has been awarded the top honor at the Mississippi Tourism Association’s Governor’s Conference on Tourism held in Biloxi today. The organization was recognized as the Destination Marketing Organization of the Year ($1 million and over) in a ceremony held at the IP Casino Resort and Spa.

Visit Jackson also took home “Social Media Overall Strategy” and “Social Media Campaign of the Year” awards and the “Community Volunteer of the Year” award for Mississippi Civil Rights Museum volunteer and Freedom Rider, Hezekiah Watkins.

Rickey Thigpen, President/CEO of Visit Jackson, stated, “The success of Visit Jackson is a direct reflection of our dedicated staff and committed Board of Directors. Any success that I am blessed to celebrate is a reciprocation of the talents of this collective ambition. I am so honored to work with this group of tourism professionals that give 110% of their energies each day.”

“These recognitions should be given to our tourism industry leaders whom we value for their talents and achievements through their outstanding accomplishments. We are happy to have the opportunity to honor the winners of these awards as we truly appreciate their dedication not only to our organization but to the entire tourism industry, the state’s fourth-largest industry,” said Kelli Davis, 2020-2021 president of MTA.

As a top honor, Visit Jackson was awarded Destination Marketing Organization of the Year in the category of $1 million and over. The organization was recognized for its perseverance in marketing Jackson as a tourism destination while overcoming unique challenges. Visit Jackson created a renewed public interest in the city as a tourism destination, a beacon of local culture, and an invaluable source of reliable, up-to-date COVID-19 information.

Visit Jackson adopted a 3-5-year strategic plan to harness collective energy, focus resources, strengthen operations, and assure stakeholders that there is a common goal. A sample of other cited accomplishments include:

  • Rebranded Visit Jackson with a new moniker, social media, and website facelifts, premiered a locals-focused blog featuring human interest stories, launched a Facebook and Instagram TV series and monthly podcast.
  • Opened the city’s first standalone visitor information center in 25 years.
  • Booked more than 100 conventions and meetings with over 30,000 overnight hotel rooms.
  • Awarded American Advertising Federation of Jackson’s Best of Show Award.

Visit Jackson also won the Social Media Overall Strategy Award for their dual-focused “City With Soul and My City” Brands. The strategy effectively integrated social media into Visit Jackson’s marketing and communications plan by developing relationships and building valuable users. Using a multi-platform approach to target two distinct demographics, social media numbers soared.

Additionally, Visit Jackson’s “My City” Campaign won the award for Social Media Campaign of the Year. Visit Jackson not only used this campaign to rebrand itself but also to generate a sense of ownership and pride among its key demographics. The campaign, seeking to help shape public perception, focused on the city’s people, places, and events.

Finally, the MTA Community Volunteer of the Year is given to a person who freely gives their time to help attract visitors to their city. This year’s award was given to Hezekiah Watkins, nominated by Visit Jackson. Watkins’ works as a Civil Rights Docent at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. His advocacy efforts began in 1961, at the age of 13, while he was arrested for participating in a sit-in at the Jackson Greyhound Bus Station and sent to Parchman. He spent his entire adult life encouraging citizens to be involved in the political process and, specifically, to impact change by voting. Watkins is a walking and talking history book, volunteering his storytelling gift to speak with tourists, travel writers, journalists, and international radio hosts.

The Governor’s Conference on Tourism, an annual educational and professional development event, brought together more than 120 tourism industry professionals from across the state and tourism partners from the surrounding region. The awards program allows MTA to recognize the best of the best from their 200-plus-member organization. Awards were presented in several categories, each focusing on a different aspect of the hospitality industry or individual achievement.