The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

July 10, 2013

Palestine Hospitality Association hoping to boost tourism

CRISTIN REECE
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — The Palestine Hospitality Association is getting down to brass tacks, and would like to see city officials also get serious about attracting tourism dollars to Palestine – especially sports tourism dollars – and supporting the Texas State Railroad.

During a group meeting held Tuesday at the Hampton Inn & Suites, association members discussed ways of getting more bang for the city’s hotel occupancy tax dollars and received an update on status of the Texas State Railroad from TSR PR Director Janet Gregg.

“Our HOT (hotel occupancy tax) funds are there to enhance our arts programs, theater and museums,” association member Carroll Sigman, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express. “They need assistance if they’re going to be successful in bringing visitors to our community. And we want to assist in making sure visitors to our town are taken good care of and that we get more visitors in.

“And we’ve already got a great start with the Dixie League baseball tournament that was in town last weekend. Sports tourism is booming right now and we want to make sure we get a bigger chunk of those dollars. And we already have a really nice tourist attraction – the railroad. I’d like to see us really prioritize the train and really push the city to make sure there are funds set aside to help the railroad thrive.”

Sigman reported the tourney the Palestine Youth Athletics Association hosted last weekend brought 22 teams of players – only four of which were from anywhere close – and their families to the Palestine area, which was projected to generate an estimated $1 million in revenue for city businesses, including the local hotels and restaurants.

“One team was from Fairfield, one from Athens and two were from here,” Sigman said. “And these teams brought moms and dads, so it wasn’t like one group rented a couple rooms and put all the kids in them. These were families here, staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants. And from what we’ve already seen, we’re pretty close to our projections on this.”

The tournament began July 5 and ends Thursday.

Association members said while the city did recently spend $7,500 on renovating the baseball fields at the Palestine Youth Athletic Association (PYAA) complex, where the tournaments were played at, they feel city officials need to do even more with the city’s HOT funds in the push to expand the city’s tourism program.

“And now is the perfect time to make some positive changes,” said Gerry Goodwin, La Quinta Inns & Suites Operations Manager. “We’ve got new people to work with – Breezy Lake-Wolfe at the EDC (Economic Development Corporation), a new mayor.”

Lake-Wolfe recently joined the Palestine Economic Development Corporation as the city’s marketing director.

“I’ve worked with many of (the Hospitality Association members) in the past,” said Lake-Wolfe, who has a strong background in the hospitality industry. “And I think it’s great they’re so involved. Our hotels play a huge part in bringing tourism in and we absolutely want to do everything we can to help put heads in the beds.

“I’m very excited to work with them all again. It’s a win-win situation.”

Association members also discussed the potential of creating an events Web site to help promote local businesses, local venues and local events and attractions, including the Texas State Railroad. Christian and Dawn Mailloux, owners and operators of the Red Fire Grill, volunteered to take that project on.

“We’re dying on the vine here, mostly because nobody really knows we’re here,” Christian Mailloux said. “We need to get more exposure. There’s just nothing there to get the word out.”

TSR rep and guest speaker Janet Gregg agreed and said any advertising would be a plus, since the TSR doesn’t have much in the way of an advertising budget.

“We have a very strategic advertising program,” she said. “And with the exception of the Polar Express runs, most of our advertising is limited to the two counties we’re operating in and the counties adjacent to them.”