Kickstart is a work in progress

By Paige Nash

It has been four months since the HGTV Home Town Kickstart episode initially aired, featuring the City of Minden. Being one of several towns chosen for the series, the purpose was to “kickstart” and revitalize the selected small towns by boosting economic growth using tourism and community pride. So, has the city experienced an uptick in visitors since the April air date?  

Occupancy is actually down compared to the first quarter of the year, so perhaps the next “kickstart” should include a strategy to give the visitors just swinging through a reason to stay a little longer.  

Many residents complain that most of the city shuts down after 8 p.m., which forces families to explore options and travel to neighboring cities, such as Shreveport-Bossier or Ruston – which leads to those travelers staying in other hotels outside of the parish in another city that might have more to offer as far as night life. 

With there being no straightforward way to track the amount of visitors, occupancy tax revenue numbers are the only semi reliable data that can be used and, due to the pandemic, the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Commission is having to base this year’s projections on occupancy from 2019.  

“2020 was unusually low due to travel and meeting cancellations and 2021 was unusually high because everyone was ready to get out and about after being cooped up all year long,” said Serena Gray, Executive Director of WPCVC. “Some hotels or campsites may only host one person per room, per night and others may host 5. All we can conclude based on the information we receive is whether we booked more overnight stays this year based solely on occupancy tax revenues. So far, we are up in revenues every month this year in comparison to 2019.” 

The first four months of the year showed higher percentages with January up by 31 percent, February by 16 percent, March by 23 percent and April by 16 percent. The last three months following the HGTV program were lower, but still in the green compared to 2019. May was up by 8 percent, June by 10 percent and July by 7 percent. 

At last month’s tourism meeting, commissioner Sara McDaniel, who also owns Simply Southern Cottage and the Cottage on Fort, said that she received notice from the online marketplace, Airbnb, that searches for lodging in our area were up by 69 percent. Are those searches for lodging translating into actual visitors?  

Not according to Jay Kumar, owner of Exacta Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Minden. He said he has not seen a rise in occupancy since the HGTV show about Minden aired in April.

“In fact, in the last four months, occupancy has declined,” Kumar said. “The first two months (of the year) were good, but these last four, it’s gone down and I don’t know why.”   

This reiterates the occupancy tax revenue percentage numbers. Kumar also said his business has been much slower than the same time last year.  

With Main Street being a focus on the HGTV program, it was expected for tourism to increase particularly in that part of the city and especially at the featured Geaux Fresh Bistro & Bakery. Owner and Executive Chef, Jodie Waller-Martin said they have a book specifically for HGTV visitors to sign.  

“We have had close to 200 visitors since the show aired,” she said.  

After speaking with multiple business owners located nearby along the brick road, the reviews were not as extravagant, but most agreed that they have experienced a slight increase in visitors. Some of them said they were from out of town, but they did not all agree that they were in correlation to “Home Town Kickstart.”  

Under Dawgs Sports Grill owner Claudine Thomas said, “Most of the visitors who have come to Under Dawgs were because of Rick Rowe featuring us on ‘Tasty Tuesday.’”  

This weekly segment is aired by KTBS Channel 3 News, where each time they feature a different local Ark-La-Tex restaurant. The episode featuring Under Dawgs in June was the initial segment leading up to that week’s KTBS Community Caravan which happens once a month and profiles a different community in the region.   

Main Street Barber Shop owner Thomas Adams, said he has seen an increase in customers over the last few months. Some of his new customers are not HGTV visitors. They are not visitors at all –  they are new residents of the city.   

“I have definitely seen an uptick of people moving to Minden, but I think most of the people moving here are due to oilfield services bouncing back,” said Adams.  

Regardless of what drew them to the City of Minden – whether it was an hour of airtime on a national platform, a ten-minute local segment, or a job opportunity, whether they are taking up residence in our city or just passing through – the ultimate goal is to continue making improvements, rebuilding, developing and empowering. A kickstart is exactly that, a start. 

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