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September 29, 2023

Tourism Update For Bolivar County

Tax revenues are up from last year as well as hotel occupancy rates

By Jack Criss

The Bolivar Bullet

Sean Johnson, who has been the Director of Tourism for Visit Cleveland since last September, said he is more than pleased with what he has seen in visits to the city during his tenure–but knows more work can be done. And, he’s actively and methodically doing just that.

Having started his career in tourism in Tupelo in 2009, Johnson has seen many trends over the years and in various subsequent tourism promotion positions throughout the state. “Momentum is on our side right now,” said Johnson. “We have many assets here, certainly. On a personal note, when I came here initially to consider my current job, I was blown away by the Cleveland I saw and experienced. I had not been here in about 10 years and couldn’t believe how much progress had been made and how much more the city had to offer than when I had been here before. That certainly led to my taking the position.” 

Johnson said he is an advocate of tightening his market of his modus operandi on the job, and that means aiming to draw in people from a 200 mile radius. 

“The numbers now show that we get heavy numbers from Memphis and Jackson, for example, and that’s by design,” he said. “More specifically, our “Fifty Nights of Lights” is a huge draw for people all over the state and region. Surprisingly, however, we also recently got a lot of visitors from Dallas, Texas. It’s a six hour drive and people are apparently making the effort to take the trip.”

Occupancy rates are currently up in Cleveland hotels and rates are up as well.

“So, our hotels are getting more guests who are also paying more. Restaurant sales have gone up, too, and are doing well. The city’s two percent sales tax, a basic metric for gauging tourist success, saw us bring in $113,000 in the last reported month, which was in March. We subscribe to a service that allows us to get hotel and other data, including cellular phone data of visitors,” explained Johnson. 

Some basic stats Johnson shared: tourism tax revenues are up 14% over last year; website traffic is up 116%; occupancy is up 11%; room rates are up 14%; demand is up 26% and lodging revenues are up 43.5%. “In terms of adjusted tourism tax revenues, Cleveland is typically second only to Greenville–bringing in more tourism dollars each month than Clarksdale, Greenwood or Tunica,” he said. “And events and shows at BPAC on average bring in a great number of visitors.”

“I consider Cleveland the center of the Delta–the hub and spoke–where people stay if they want to experience the totality of what our region offers,” explains Johnson. “And we encourage visitors to make Cleveland the ‘base camp’ of their Delta excursion or vacation.”

Johnson is currently trying to recruit some car rental businesses to Cleveland and the surrounding areas. 

“That would help us tremendously,” he said, “There are no rental car services in Greenville or at the train station in Marks. If we could get that service we could advertise to a much larger swarth of the country, places like Chicago, for instance. It would make it easier for them to come here and enjoy what we offer.

“Every visitor here is a potential resident,” said Johnson. “People now can work from anywhere, as many are now doing here. We have such great quality of life here–personally I think it’s the best in the state, even better than Oxford–and we certainly need to do all we can to encourage visitors to move here, to stay.”

, “and it will be effective here in Cleveland, as well. When the ordinance is published in The Bolivar Bullet, it will go immediately into effect. It’s a big step for this city and surrounding communities.”