Tourism is a growing industry here in Paris, and those who work to bring tourists in aren’t resting on their laurels.

Becky Semple is the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce director of tourism. Since joining the chamber in 2006, she has seen major growth in both the number of people and events that have come to Paris.

When Semple started working at the chamber, there were seven events aimed at bringing visitors to Paris, including the Tour de Paris bike ride and square dance groups. A year later, one event was added — the Southwest Shootout archery competition. Though it was just one event, it was a major accomplishment as it brought in more than 1,000 archers.

By 2018, the number of chamber-sponsored events designed to attract tourists had grown to 25. This year, there are 34 planned events, which includes the recently concluded Cushman Club of America national meet. The club for scooter enthusiasts brought more than 400 people from 28 states to the Love Civic Center for four days.

Each of the events is planned to bring in between 40 and 700 people, though the Southwest Shootout remains the largest with more than 1,300 archers, plus their families, in town last year. That event alone attracts visitors from across the U.S., and even some from Europe, while injecting more than $1 million into businesses throughout the city, Semple said. The shootout is so large, Semple said, it has a regional effect because Paris hoteliers have 812 rooms for people, and when they’re full, visitors stay in Bonham, Commerce, Sulphur Springs, Hugo, Oklahoma, and just about anywhere moderately nearby with an available room.

Other events, many of which are growing in popularity and attendance, include the Southern Drag Boat Association races, the Northeast Classic Car Show and the new Red River Valley Quilt Guild Quilt Show. Some events are annual, others bi-annual. But these events are helping to spread the word that Paris, Texas, is somewhere that should be seen. That’s why around Christmastime, there’s groups who are bussed to town for tours of the city.

The boost in tourism is hardly imagined as Mihir Pankaj, owner of Hampton Inn and Days Inn, said hotel stays at his properties have increased in the last decade.

“I would say that if you had to think about it from 2006 to 2019 present date, it’s probably multiplied by three or four times,” he said of room rentals. “If someone were to do the math, I would guesstimate that that’s what it would be at, but it’s huge.

“The economic impact that the chamber of commerce really does here in this town is huge,” he added.

Investing in tourism

Many of the events that bring people to town have a central headquarters, and often that place is Love Civic Center at 2025 S. Collegiate Drive. The 25-year-old building is up for renovation and modernization after voters in May approved of a 2-cent increase in Paris’ hotel occupancy tax. Revenues from the increase can only be used for the renovation and are expected to pay off a $1.5 million debt in 10 years.

Pankaj was one of several supporters of the tax increase, which he said will only be paid by visitors as that tax is collected by hotels.

“We are in support because it is a direct reflection on increasing the integrity and business of our town,” Pankaj said during the campaign to convince voters to approve the increase. “That 2-cent increase will benefit us all. That’s revenue for the city, for hotels, restaurants ... and an opportunity to gain more business and to grow this city to its full potential.”

The City of Paris also has been working to create and beautify attractions for residents and visitors. Those efforts were displayed Saturday during the Lake Crook Recreation Day, which drew dozens of families to the shore of the lake for trail walks, wildlife lessons, a scavenger hunt, fishing and water slides, in addition to other events.

Another frequently cited attraction for visitors is the Trail de Paris, a 6.89 mile section of the Northeast Texas Trail within Paris. The Northeast Texas Trail covers 19 towns and seven counties, allowing the intrepid explorer a much more scenic route than they might otherwise get on the major roads in and out of town. In addition to bringing visitors to town, the trail attracts local groups, like the Boy and Girl Scouts, that plan community service and outdoor requirement projects, such as trash pickups.

Keeping them coming

The most important part of increasing tourism traffic here is not just getting events in town, Pankaj said. It’s getting them to come back the next year and the year after that.

Semple said the chamber works hard at not just securing events for the future, but also at making sure the people want to return. The main way that’s done — with a smile and a friendly welcome. Semple often is at the center of the connections made with event organizers, and volunteers who work with her are the first to say when visitors return, she’s the one they want to talk with.

“They’re always talking about how nice everybody is … Paris is really unique about southern hospitality,” Semple said. “That to me helps bring groups back and helps the tourism grow, because then people like to be here.”

Annabelle Smallwood is a freelance writer for The Paris News.

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