Mississippi’s Thematic Trails Shine the Spotlight on Unique Culture and History

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Collaborate in New Ways, Enhance Your Product, Focus on Customer Potential

Type of attraction: Tourism Organization

Summary: Sometimes economic difficulties can be a good thing – in effect, a wakeup call to redirect from doing things the way they have always been done.

Sometimes economic difficulties can be a good thing – in effect, a wakeup call to redirect from doing things the way they have always been done. With a downturn in the economy and state budget cuts, Mississippi's approach to cultural and heritage tourism is focused on diversification and community and regional development. 

"Few heritage sites survive if they are dependent on one main revenue stream.  Also, few communities can have a sustainable tourism program if they try to function independently of other communities in the region or if they rely solely on one source of tourism revenue, says Sarah McCullough, program manager for culture and heritage for Mississippi Development Authority's Tourism Division.  "We are encouraging heritage sites to diversify their visitors' experience, to look at other sources of revenue, and to become more engaged in their communities by developing educational activities related to culture and heritage.  We are also encouraging communities to look at the community's overall cultural and heritage appeal as a cultural and heritage tourism asset, not to look just at specific sites, and to work regionally.  

To build partnerships across the state and to help communities continue to attract visitors, the tourism division has focused on creating thematic trails that lead visitors to heritage attractions and educate them about the state’s varied history. The first of these, the Mississippi Blues Trail, has been tremendously successful in telling the story of the state’s role as the “Birthplace of America’s Music.”

Also popular are the Mississippi Agri Tours Trails that guide visitors to places as diverse as catfish farms, pumpkin patches, farmers’ markets and barn dances. 

The newest is the Culinary Trail. Visitors can find information on the tourism division’s website, www.visitmississippi.org where they can explore the trail by region of the state. “It is not intended to be a comprehensive restaurant guide,” McCullough notes. “It includes eating establishments that reflect Mississippi’s culinary heritage and the heritage of the South or are located in a building of historic significance. We also collected interesting oral histories about foods in certain regions.”

The culinary trail is designed to grow as new sites are identified or opened. “There are a lot of small, locally owned dining establishments in Mississippi, and we thought this would help bring them business.” McCullough says.

Next up will be a Literary Trail tracing significant places connected to the state’s famous writers, including William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Shelby Foote and others.

“This plan is driven by Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday in March 2011.We want to have the first phase of the trail, which will feature Mississippi's most noted writers, done by then,” says McCullough. “We are trying to bring in lesser-known sites. For example William Faulkner was at hunting camp when it was announced that he was a Nobel winner in 1949, and we want to include that site on the trail.”

For more information, visit www.visitmississippi.org or contact Sarah McCullough, program manager for culture and heritage for the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division, smccullough@mississippi.org, 601-359-3297.