by Andi Agnew | Photographed by Frank Farmer
“Don’t mind Lunas, he just had a bath,” says Jane Halbert Jones, as the dog happily rolls around on the living room carpet of her Fondren home. Settling in on the back deck on an unseasonably warm January day, Jones talks excitedly about recently receiving some additional credentials as a travel agent – but don’t call her that.
“I hate ‘travel agent,’ because it’s an old term. I prefer ‘travel counselor,’” she says. Jones is owner and operator of More Than a Tourist, LLC, which provides “travel counseling” on various levels. This includes organized group trips to Paris and the French Riviera each year, individualized trips, showing tourists from other states and countries what Mississippi has to offer, or, even guiding a group of homegrown Mississippians through a progressive dinner in their own neighborhood.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Jones was interested in the world and travel from a young age. She took French in high school to be “different” from her friends, who mostly took Spanish, and continued to study French through college. After spending a few semesters abroad and completing a graduate program in Paris, Jones found herself at a crossroads of sorts.
“I was back in Mississippi, working a desk job, but I wasn’t happy, so I came up with the idea to take groups of people over to Paris. In that office I came up with the name. I thought to myself, ‘I want people to feel comfortable when they travel… I want them to be more than a tourist! In 2011, I got an LLC and planned my first group trip to Paris. I had three people on that trip,” she recalls.
More Than a Tourist started with the group tours to France, but as word got out, Jones found that people would seek her advice on their own trips to France or other countries. “I’ve been doing that ever since,” she says. Jones offers something she calls “Travel 101” – advice or guidance on how to make the most of the traveler’s time and budget, how to pack, what to take, what not to take and more.
After a couple of years and successful trips to France, Jones began leading and advising tour groups visiting Mississippi. “I want to be known as your one-stop concierge service in Mississippi – if you’re wanting to do a civil rights tour, a civil war tour, or you’re wanting to see the blues… you contact me and let me help you with all the details and logistics,” she says.
More recently, she began leading tours and progressive dinners for locals as well. “Everyone is guilty of this – we know less about the place we live in than anywhere else. As I was doing research for people visiting from outside of Mississippi, I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know about the state and my friends and family didn’t, either. There’s so much to learn and do that makes us unique. It’s fun to be a tourist in your own town.”
Reflecting on how far she has come in the last few years, Jones says, “Having organizations like the (Jackson) Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit Mississippi call me for help and expertise has made me feel good, because I know I’ve worked really hard to get to this point. I have felt that I’ve cut a notch that has been noticed, and that makes me feel really good, that people are starting to notice. I want to continue on that path.”
The 2017 group tour to Paris is May 28 – June 6; 10 people maximum; April 1 deadline. The French Riviera trip is August 27 – September 5; 7 people maximum. For more information: morethanatourist.net