Lifelong Mississippian Rochelle Hicks has worked more than 15 years in the tourism industry. Last week, the Mississippi Tourism Association announced it has named her as its new executive director. In addition to planning strategy and tactics for the group, Hicks will also represent the industry in the state Legislature.
The Natchez native has lived in the Jackson area for about 13 years. She graduated from the University of Louisiana, Monroe, in 1994 with a degree in business administration. Hicks began her career in the industry right out of college, when she took a job at a Natchez casino. She moved to the MTA a little more than a month ago from the Ridgeland Tourism Commission, where she worked for 12 years, last as its deputy director.
Among her goals at her new job are to grow its membership and educate people in the industry about what the association does.
"I'm still kind of working on some thoughts and ideas," Hicks said late last week, but she is clear on the vital role tourism plays in the state's economy. "Tourism is the fourth largest employer in Mississippi," she said. The industry contributes more than 8 percent to the state's general fund, which amounts to about $340 million annually.
"The great thing about Mississippi is that we have so many diverse attractions," she said, from art museums, Elvis Presley's birthplace and the blues and country music trails. "Our association is there to support all of those things."
Growing up in Natchez, she says, with its casinos and historical attractions, put tourism in her blood. She mentioned the many international visitors the state receives due to its rich musical history, but Hicks is keen to have Mississippians become more familiar with the state's attractions as well.
"A lot of us who live here aren't familiar with what's in our backyard," she said, adding that she hopes to make all Mississippians aware of how important tourism is to the state.
Hicks, 39, is married to Jason Hicks, and has 8-year-old twins, Ethan and Isabella.