Ederhostel’s impact on economy is evident

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2001

Elderhostel numbers tell a true story – no guessing at what the basic impact is on the Natchez economy. The Elderhostelers come. They stay for five days. They eat three meals a day. They ride on buses. They visit sites. They hear lectures. They tour with guides. The Natchez Elderhostel program, sponsored by Copiah-Lincoln Community College since its founding in 1990, has brought many thousands of visitors for the week-long programs.

Elderhostel, based in Boston, is an educational program for adults 55 and older. It operates in all 50 states, Canada and throughout the world, the Co-Lin program being one of about 1,800 offered.

For Walter Tipton, executive director of the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Elderhostelers are near-perfect visitors for Natchez.

&uot;The beauty of the program is that they are well organized; the planning already has been done before they arrive,&uot; Tipton said.

&uot;So they don’t tax the resources of the CVB and that allows us to focus on groups that do need our help in making plans.&uot;

What’s more, he said, the economic impact of the Elderhostel program goes beyond the numbers.

&uot;They are great for the community,&uot; he said. &uot;They are in an age group and education level that we target. They are a niche market in the mainstream of our venue.&uot;

What that means, Tipton said, is that these visitors likely will have successful stays in Natchez and will pass on their good experiences to others.

&uot;And theirs are what we call direct dollars into the Natchez economy.&uot;

In 2000, 36 Elderhostel groups visited Natchez, a total of 1,525 people, said Dee Ray, program coordinator.

&uot;They sent a total of $632,000 in tuition, which went directly to pay for their time in Natchez,&uot; Ray said.

She broke down the percentages in this way: 36 percent to hotels, 32 percent for meals, 19 percent for staff and lecturers, 10 percent for bus transportation and 3 percent for tours.

&uot;Many people don’t realize the economic impact of the program,&uot; she said.

Tipton said local and state tourism and economic development officials use the factor of 1.7 to figure how money such as the Elderhostel tuition turns over in the community.

That puts the year 2000 figures well above the million-dollar mark. &uot;People who get paid turn around and pay employees; those people buy groceries and other things, and that’s how the money turns over,&uot; Tipton said.

At the Raddison Eola Hotel, manager Ron Brumfield said the Elderhostel groups are among the hotel’s top 10 clients.

&uot;They not only are important for us but also for people all over town,&uot; he said. &uot;They are definitely a part of our livelihood.&uot;

Many Elderhostel guests come ahead of the program, reserving extra nights on their own; others stay over for an extra night or two.

That’s lagniappe. So are purchases the Elderhostelers make during their free time. Joy Cavallas, who operates the gift shop at the hotel, agrees. &uot;They like my gifts but they love my books,&uot; she said.

Not only does Cavallas like the business the Elderhostelers bring, however. She enjoys their visits in her shop. &uot;They come from all over the country, and they are so eager and enthusiastic. They love this particular Elderhostel program, too; we hear their comments all the time.&uot;

The Eola is the most often used hotel because of its location downtown, Ray said. The program also uses the Isle of Capri. &uot;That puts our transportation costs a bit higher because we aren’t as centrally located there,&uot; she said.

Restaurants taking part in the program include The Fare, Pearl Street Pasta, West Bank Eatery, John Martin’s, Carriage House, Cock of the Walk, King’s Tavern and Christopher’s, among others.

The groups also have meals in several antebellum houses, including The Burn, Cedar Grove and Weymouth Hall.