Heat wave blamed for tourism drop

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Blame it on the weather.

A measurable drop in the number of visitors to the Natchez Visitor Reception Center this summer is part of a statewide trend caused by increased gasoline prices and high temperatures, local tourism officials said.

&uot;That’s what I’m blaming it on,&uot; Natchez Tourism Management Director Walter Tipton said.

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The number of visitors to Mississippi’s 11 welcome centers dropped by 158,000 from October 1999 to June 2000 – a difference of more than 10 percent, Tipton said. Natchez visitor center figures are &uot;right in line&uot; with statewide statistics, he said.

The largest drop in visitation occurred during May and June, just when gas prices hit an all-time high and temperatures rose to record-breaking levels, Tipton said.

Compared to overall figures, Tipton said &uot;it’s hard to say&uot; what effect the 10 percent decrease means to local economy.

&uot;What’s really of concern is tax revenues,&uot; which have actually increased 2 percent over the 1998-99 period, he said.

&uot;Events make up for the shortfall in visitors to the center,&uot; Tipton said. Recent draws such as the Dixie Youth state baseball tournament and the Sadie V. Thompson Era Reunion, have helped offset the drop in tourists passing through the city. &uot;What’s important is keeping the restaurants and hotels full,&uot; Tipton said, adding that a large percentage of tourists who visit the center do so on their way through town, and Natchez is not necessarily their destination.

Mary Katherine Jones, owner of Tortoiseshell Frame and Gifts on Franklin Street, said fewer tourists have come into her shop this summer than usual.

&uot;This happens every year about this time,&uot; Jones said. But the decline has been more noticeable this summer, she said.

Faye Richardson, operations director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, said the tour company has also been affected by the drop in tourism numbers.

&uot;We have seen a decrease in both group sales and individual sales,&uot; Richardson said. &uot;Several of the homeowners have also mentioned they’ve noticed fewer people buying tickets at the door.&uot;

Ron Brumfield, general manager of the Radisson Natchez Eola Hotel, said Natchez tourism is actually faring well compared to the rest of the nation.

According to recent reports, lodging numbers nationwide are down 15 percent compared to past summers, Brumfield said, while the Eola has only seen a 3 percent drop.

&uot;I don’t think Natchez is feeling it as much as other parts of the country,&uot; he said.

While the change has been minimal to most, some businesses have not noticed anything more than the usual summer slump.

&uot;It’s just been slow,&uot; said Peter Trosclair, owner of Biscuits and Blues restaurant and bar on Main Street. &uot;When it gets hot, people don’t want to come here.&uot;

With gas prices leveling off and cooler fall temperatures around the corner, Tipton said he expects the summer slump to lift in September and October.

Natchez will be the stage for at least four major attractions in October, including the Great Mississippi Balloon Race, Fall Pilgrimage and two new events.

&uot;Angels on the Bluff&uot; will take place in late October, just in time for Halloween.

The event will feature area residents dressed as note-worthy characters buried in the city and national cemeteries as they guide visitors through the rows of headstones and monuments.

Another October event, &uot;Brits on the Bluff,&uot; will be a classic automobile show featuring the British M.G. roadsters.