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March 28, 2023

Davis Steps Down

ourism Director was instrumental 

in helping put Cleveland on the map

by aimee Robinette

The Bolivar Bullet

For eight years, Kelli Davis has put Cleveland in the forefront, engaging businesses, tourists and countless organizations with what the city, community and citizens have to offer.  

The Cleveland  Tourism  Director started at the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce in the fall of 2013 and never looked back. 

“It was really important to me when I started to get a full assessment of where Cleveland was in the beginning. Basically, take stock of what we had, and then also figure out who was coming to Cleveland and why. My first year, we hired Berkeley Young with Young Strategies to come in and do a full occupancy study, a survey of past visitors and what they did while they were here—and I think really importantly, what would they have participated in town if it was available,” said Davis. “This was really key in having a holistic approach to what drives visitation. From this year-long research came a wonderful strategic plan and lots of data on the behavior of our current traveler at that time. It let me know what direction to take in advertising, what our drive markets were, and what made us appealing as a destination.”

 Davis worked with laser focus to meet her goals she set in the beginning. 

“Many, many goals have been accomplished. When I started, the tourism tax numbers were around $650,000, and it was always my goal to hit over $1 million in the 2% hotel and restaurant tax revenue. This past year, we did just that. One big thing Berkeley suggested was us moving the visitors’ center and tourism office from where it was over by the industrial park, to a more suitable location,” she explained. “Also, by having this report that we did early, I was able to give this data over to quite a few people looking to start businesses. One being Luke Chamblee who helped to bring the Cotton House to downtown Cleveland. When I started, I also found that many visitors were taking the route down through Memphis to Clarksdale, then cutting over to Greenwood, Indianola, and then back over to either Jackson or Vicksburg. I’m happy to say I think we are included on many itineraries now, and we’ve created quite a brand of our own.

“Being elected by my peers to the executive board of the Mississippi Tourism Association was very humbling, and now serving as president of this statewide organization has allowed me to learn so much industry-wide. I am very thankful my colleagues put that trust in me. We are much smaller than a lot of destinations, but  I don’t think that discounts the work that we do. It’s almost more of a challenge to have a very small staff and budget,” she added.

Davis’ last day was May 14.

“I’ve had opportunities with this job that I never imagined. Although you do get to travel a lot of places, you might not ever see the outside of a convention center! I would say going on the Visit Mississippi sponsored international trips were wonderful, and exhausting. But basically, you are running all day with appointments with different tour operators in every city, and training them on exactly how to get to the region, what we all have to offer, and they in turn then sell our destination to those looking to visit the Deep South. And, in the last four or five years, the popularity has exploded. People want something authentic once they have seen the bright lights and big city. And that’s exactly what we have here in the Delta,” she said. 

Promoting Cleveland is and will continue to be an important task. Lara Bowman, Chamber Director, says that a search for Davis’ replacement will start in the coming weeks. 

“We appreciate Kelli’s dedication as tourism director for the past eight years,” said Bowman. “She helped develop the Visit Cleveland brand which is well-known and recognized.”

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