Pilgrimage outlook gloomy like sky

Published 12:30 am Saturday, March 8, 2008

NATCHEZ — It’s hard to imagine beautiful azaleas, bright sunny days and sandaled tourists when the temperature is in the 30s, but whether you can imagine it or not, Spring Pilgrimage is here.

Friday’s chilly temperatures are expected to warm some today, and the first six houses on tour will open their doors before day’s end.

And though it’s always hard to predict Pilgrimage numbers ahead of time, things weren’t looking so great at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours office earlier this week.

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Director Jim Coy said only 83 group tours were planned, when last year at the same time 95 groups had committed.

“We do have less groups coming,” Coy said. “It’s still hard to get groups to consider Natchez just a destination. They are still missing New Orleans.”

The Natchez Pilgrimage has suffered since Katrina struck New Orleans. The storm slowed tour groups and canceled some options in the big city, which trickled down to Natchez. In the past, tour groups to New Orleans would ride a bus or a boat to Natchez for the day during Pilgrimage.

Other factors have contributed to a slower tourism season too, Coy said, including steady-rising gas prices.

“That makes me nervous that individual (tours) may be down,” Coy said.

As group tours have slowed in recent years, NPT has relied on individual day trips to keep the crowds coming.

“We advertise pretty hard in a 200-mile radius out for day travelers,” Coy said.

Pilgrimage will continue until April 12 with six houses on tour each day. Today, the red and green tour houses are open, including House on Ellicott Hill, Auburn, Glenburnie, Montaigne, Oakland and Hope Farm.

The Historic Natchez Pageant will be at the City Auditorium, the comedy “Southern Exposure” opens at the Natchez Little Theatre and the musical performance “Southern Road to Freedom” will be at Holy Family Catholic Church. All nighttime events will begin at 8 p.m.