Balloon Fest gives area economy a lift

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Did you know there was a balloon race in Natchez this weekend?

If not, you might be living under a rock &045;&045; or you might not work at one of the hotels in the Miss-Lou that are booked up for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, which lifts off Friday.

&uot;The hotels are booked for the weekend,&uot; said Natchez tourism director Walter Tipton. &uot;The RV park in Vidalia is booked (for balloon race) for the next three years.&uot;

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The addition of the new Comfort Suites in Vidalia &045;&045; open for its second balloon race &045;&045; has helped attract more people to the event, Tipton said, which could boost the economic impact of the event.

While Pilgrimage remains the biggest tourist event for Natchez, balloon race weekend may pack the biggest punch for three days. The impact of having pilots, their families and spectators staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, buying gas and shopping in retail stores amounts to about $1.5 million, Tipton said. And with clearer skies expected this weekend, Tipton hopes numbers are higher than last year’s race &045;&045; which happened in the middle of the wettest October on record. &uot;We’re already exceeding last year’s visitor numbers,&uot; Tipton said.

About $880,000 worth of direct expenditures can be attributed to the balloon race’s spectators and participants, Tipton said, according to numbers from the 2000 festival. Multiplied by the standard turnover factor of 1.7 &045;&045; which, in general, assumes people spend about $100 a day here &045;&045; that amounts to $1.5 million.

Even people who don’t stay overnight will likely buy gas, food and souvenirs, Tipton said.

Also, Tipton expects the balloon race to attract more people to Natchez later in the year. &uot;People come for that event and come here three months from now because they’re familiar with Natchez,&uot; he said. Brochures for all of Natchez’s events will be on display during the weekend.

The balloon race festival is also an attraction. With the festival offering food, entertainment and children’s activities, &uot;we see how much greater participation,&uot; Tipton said.

And balloon race also spills over from Natchez to Vidalia, with a balloon glow held across the river and some races beginning or ending there.