By Alyssa Schnugg
While most Oxonians have already been sold on how special the town is, it’s newly appointed director of Visit Oxford Kinney Ferris’s job to convince outsiders why our “little postage stamp of native soil” makes a great place to visit.
Football weekends and large events like Double Decker Arts Festival successfully put “heads in beds” at local hotels and fill up restaurants. It’s getting people to visit Oxford during the mid-week that Ferris and her staff will be focusing on in 2020.
Ferris was promoted to executive director last month after former director Mary Allyn Hedges resigned.
“That was really bittersweet,” Ferris said. “We’ve worked together for a long time and worked so well together.”
After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, she returned to her hometown of Tupelo where she did event planning until being hired in 2009 as the office manager at the Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau, which was managed under the same umbrella as Oxford Tourism – now Visit Oxford.
In 2014 she became assistant director for Visit Oxford and in 2017, she was promoted to deputy director.
“When Tourism and the Convention Center split in 2013, I basically had a choice of which one to work for,” Ferris said. “The part of my job I enjoyed the most with the Tourism department was selling Oxford as a destination and I wanted to explore that more.”
Part of Visit Oxford’s 2020 Action Plan includes not filling the deputy director position that Ferris left behind, but rather, create a new position – a Sales and Marketing Director, that will focus on increasing mid-week visitation to Oxford through association meetings, conferences and leisure group travel.
“Our weekends are pretty good but we really struggle midweek,” Ferris said. “We are hoping to really make a positive impact on our local businesses and the whole community.”
When selling Oxford at conventions, through regional and national ads or attending travel shows, Ferris said she and her staff sell the Oxford “experience.”
“We are going to show what Oxford can offer that other cities can’t – whether that’s shopping on our historic downtown Square or dining in one of our James Beard award-winning restaurants,” she said. “If it’s a leisure visit, we cater more to the literary, culinary and Blues scenes,” she said. “People want to see our Blues markers, live music. We work a lot with Thacker Mountain Radio as well.”
Ferris joins a large number of female department heads in Oxford, which includes Mayor Robyn Tannehill, City Engineer Reanna Mayoral, Director of Environmental Services Amberlynn Likes and several others.
While tourism is traditionally “women-driven,” Ferris said most of the director positions are still male in Mississippi. She credits Oxford’s progressiveness for having such diverse leadership.
“It shows the city is open to hiring the right person for the job and not based on what they look like or what their gender is,” she said. “It shows great leadership on the city’s part.”
Ferris is married to Michael Ferris, vice president of commercial lending at FNB. The couple has two children, Mary Mac, 8, and Tripp, 5.