New Executive Director of Mississippi Tourism Association
By Becky Gillette • Photography by Johnny Jennings
New Mississippi Tourism Association (MTA) Executive Director Danielle Morgan, TMP, has decades of experience that prepared her for this role. Most recently she was executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau. Earlier the Delta State University (DSU) graduate worked in advertising and public relations, as a graphic arts coordinator, and as a restaurant owner.
Morgan is ready to hit the ground running to take advantage of the huge pent-up desire to travel that has resulted from pandemic restrictions.
“We have already seen some rebounds in leisure travel between the last wave and the current uptick we are seeing now,”says Morgan. “There is still a lot to do to bring back business and international travel sectors. We have to continue to learn ways to adapt and coexist. Travel is such a huge part of our lives. It enriches us and gives us respite from work and everyday life. We need it in order to have balance. So, we may have to do it differently for a while, but it’s worth it and I believe we will adapt however is needed to keep traveling.”
Tourism has definitely changed as a result of the pandemic. Morgan anticipates the focus on outdoor activities will continue to grow.
“Fortunately, our state has tremendous outdoor resources,” she says. “We just have to continue to develop and cultivate them to provide access for our visitors. We are still looking at a couple of years before our industry fully recovers. We will have to continue to be innovative and nimble more than ever. The status quo is gone. Everything has to be looked at with a new lens, and we have to continue to be adaptable.”
Her parents lived in Yazoo City, but she was born in Jackson during the flood of ’79. “I guess I like to make an entrance,” says Morgan.
She grew up in Yazoo City before moving to Cleveland for college. She graduated from DSU with a BFA with an emphasis in graphic design and a minor in photography.
“I started out at a small advertising and public relations firm, Mann & Associates, in Jackson,” says Morgan. “This experience was really valuable to my career. Being a small shop, I was fortunate enough to learn all aspects of advertising and public relations from working with a really diverse client base.”
After several years there, she went to work as graphic arts coordinator for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. During this time, she also owned a restaurant called Kittrell’s on the Square in Lexington. She was at Farm Bureau for ten years before becoming executive director of Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau five years ago.
“While I loved my time as a designer, I always felt I was meant for a greater purpose with more human interaction,” says Morgan. “My advertising background was really valuable as I transitioned into destination marketing, as well as my time in the restaurant business. Looking back, it seems as if my entire career path was preparing me for my work in tourism.”
Morgan has always loved Mississippi and drawn energy from sharing the Delta and all the special places found in every corner of the state.
“As an added bonus, the tourism industry is filled with people from the hospitality industry who are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever been involved with and that makes for a really special work experience,” she says.
Morgan says she has been mentored and influenced by so many throughout her life. She feels really fortunate to have been surrounded by people who taught her a lot about faith, leadership, professionalism, and character through their example.
“I’m grateful to my parents for instilling the importance of a good work ethic,” she says. “I always loved working and started working at a pretty young age. I’ve learned a great deal from working alongside my seasoned tourism colleagues, especially this past year and a half as we have worked closely to collaborate on how to save our industry and foster recovery.”
She also credits a lot to watching Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams lead with strength and grace as she navigates the political landscape. “She has shown me that it takes a lot of people working together to get things done and as long as you have a thick skin and confidence that you are doing the right thing, you can garner respect – even from those who may not agree with you,” says Morgan.
The mission of MTA is to unite all sectors of the tourism industry through advocacy, promotion and education. As the hardest-hit sector of the economy during the pandemic, recovery is a really high priority for their organization right now.
“We will continue to advocate for our entire industry and be the voice of tourism as we recover and grow the industry,” she says. “Unity will be key to this recovery and we hope MTA can be a leader in uniting all sectors of the industry by representing the needs of everyone in a cohesive way.
“Our organization was at the forefront leading the charge for the Tourism Promotion Act that was passed by the legislature in 2019. This dedicated marketing funding has the potential to transform Mississippi’s tourism landscape and we are so appreciative that lawmakers saw the impact of tourism and invested in our future success. The MTA Board of Directors acts as the advisory committee to MDA/Visit Mississippi for this funding. It’s a priority of our board to see these resources implemented in an effective way to attract an unprecedented number of visitors to our state. Despite our recent challenges, it is a really exciting time for Mississippi tourism.”
Tourism is the fourth-largest industry in Mississippi and Morgan hopes to continue to educate lawmakers and leaders on how much revenue the industry generates. The return on investment is really tremendous to our state and local communities, she says.
In addition to that, there is a bigger picture goal here, as well. Morgan says as much as we love and believe in our state, we have to face the difficult reality that we are one of three states that lost population over the past decade.
“We have to continue to make the connection that tourism and destination development are key factors in attracting and retaining quality talent,” says Morgan. “People want to live, work and play in a place that is thriving and attractive to visitors. We’ve seen this phenomenon in other places all over the country. Quality of life and quality of place are key to our economic future and growth.”
She said they are also always working to provide more educational opportunities for members. They recently announced an Excellence in Tourism Leadership Program through Mississippi State University Extension. The program will include two certificate-level programs in tourism leadership, an Associate and a Masters option.
“The more educational opportunities we can provide, the better we collectively become as an industry,” she says. “I believe our best days are ahead and it is an honor to be able to lead our organization and represent the interests of our members throughout the state.”
She thrives on the diversity of the job.
“I really love sharing the state and connecting with people through their experiences,” says Morgan. “No two days are the same. It’s also really rewarding to see perceptions change as people experience our state as a visitor. I always say that our biggest challenge is getting people to our state for the first time. Once we do, data shows that they almost always return. There is something special here that has given birth to America’s music along with so many other cultural contributions that have shaped our world. Not to mention our beautiful and diverse outdoor assets and divine cuisine. There is truly something for everybody. It’s like sharing a best kept secret with the world.”
She is married to Brent Morgan, who was born and raised in Greenwood. He is a partner with his brother in a residential construction company specializing in custom cabinetry and trim.
“They are true artisans,” she says. “We have a five-year-old rescue dog, named Howard Street Howard. He was living downtown in Greenwood and garnered quite a following through his press coverage in the newspaper and even had a segment on the Delta TV News.”
For fun, she loves to travel, of course, and enjoys live music, photography, gardening, cooking, sunset watching, exploring nature and reading. She is a member of the Greenwood Rotary Club service organization, has volunteered as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and at the Museum of the Mississippi Delta. She supports many other community organizations.
“Greenwood is a very generous community with lots of great opportunities to give back,” she says. “The nature of tourism includes many after-hours engagements, so it doesn’t leave as much time for volunteer work as I would like. But, I’m happy to contribute where I can and have the opportunity to work on behalf of the entire state.”