Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 24, 2023

Rogers column: Tupelo for the holidays? They’re banking on it

Times Square has long enjoyed top billing in this country for its New Year’s Eve celebration, and with good reason. Revelers started unofficially reveling there in 1904. And since 1907, an illuminated ball has descended there to count down the annual changeover for the throngs in attendance and what are now the millions more watching on TV.

More recently, our own Music City has joined the lineup of American cities chosen for a TV broadcast of calendar change festivities, as the event makes its orderly progression across the country’s four time zones.

Some people would like you to consider a very different destination than New York or Nashville to welcome 2024: Tupelo, Mississippi.

“There’s no better time for a getaway than at the start of the year!” a recent ad in The Nashville Scene proclaimed. “So, why not ring in the New Year in style at the #MyTupelo new year’s eve Party in Downtown Tupelo, MS?”

The ad announced a contest featuring, as prizes, three nights in a Tupelo hotel, a “personalized itinerary,” a “one-of-a-kind #MyTupelo gift basket” and passes to “popular attractions.”

My experience with Tupelo is somewhat limited, it being near the top of Mississippi, and me coming from the bottom. (No jokes, please.) But I can definitely vouch for two popular attractions there. One, which you probably know of, is the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum. The other is Johnnie’s Drive In, home of the Doughburger.

Said to have been a favorite of Elvis’s, who paired them with RC Colas, Doughburgers employ a mystery ingredient (flour? bread? soy grits?) to extend the ground meat. Mustard, pickle and onion are the suggested condiments.

The ad is oddly silent on Johnnie’s and Doughburgers but does mention other attractions I wasn’t familiar with: Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo, and Queen’s Meadery. Trip Advisor ranks them as No. 6 and No. 30 for Things to Do there.

I wondered why Tupelo was targeting Nashvillians for New Year’s, so I emailed the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Kylie Boring, marketing director, provided answers.

“Nashville is a primary/top feeder market for Tupelo and we are in current partnerships with various media in Nashville promoting Tupelo as a leisure travel destination,” she wrote. “As such, it made sense to extend our outreach to the Nashville market for Tupelo’s new year’s eve Party because visitors can easily travel to Tupelo on Contour Airlines and/or the Natchez Trace Parkway and experience the same celebration without big city crowds.”

A couple of surprises there. I tend to think of Nashville as feeding off places like Tupelo, rather than the other way around. And it was news to learn that it’s possible to fly direct to Tupelo from here. I do know it’s 200 miles down the Trace, and those are probably the 200 best miles of the Trace.

The Tupelo new year’s invitation is a first for Nashville. Boring said that “as we reemerge into our top feeder markets using the recently received ARPA funds, we want to ensure we saturate those markets with our marketing messages to inspire overnight visitation.”

She’s referring to the federal money for economic recovery from COVID provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. And New Year’s isn’t the only attraction being pitched. I saw another Scene ad a week later urging folks to come eat in Tupelo, “an upbeat, happy city where we believe in the power of possibility!”

Like, apparently, the possibility of luring Nashvillians to a place many may never have considered for a getaway.

As to those big city crowds Boring mentioned avoiding: Nashville had an estimated 210,000 people at Bicentennial Park to welcome 2023. Times Square draws a million, give or take. Tupelo gets around 5,000. Sound like more your speed? It is mine.

The contest for free lodging and such is over, but I suspect you’d still find Tupelo a bargain. A menu posted on Facebook states those Doughburgers, for instance, cost only $1.40. They’re known as slugburgers in some places, by the way, but don’t let that deter you. Get a couple. They’re small.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.