Gas prices, economy may be reason for Pilgrimage drop

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 21, 2008

NATCHEZ —Spring Pilgrimage might not be the busiest this year, with high gas prices and economy woes, but it’s still a good turnout, officials said.

Jim Coy, director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, said despite these negative impacts, group tours and individual tours are only down by 5 percent.

“I’m going to attribute that mainly to increased fuel prices and secondarily to the economy,” Coy said.

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High gas prices typically deter the visitors coming from the 100 to 200-mile radius, Coy said.

Director of Tourism Connie Taunton said gas prices affect the tour buses that come through.

“In the past, whenever motor coaches would come, they would sometimes come having 20 to 25 passengers,” Taunton said. “Now a lot of motor coaches, unless they have it full with 45 passengers, can’t afford to come.”

Expensive gas, coupled with the loss of tour groups coming from New Orleans, had made a decrease, Taunton said.

Coy and Taunton both said that a 5 percent decrease is not too bad, though.

What Coy does fear is the loss of the American Queen.

Once a week during Pilgrimage, the paddle wheeler docks, allowing its passengers to explore Natchez.

Coy said he fears the rising waters of the river might be an impediment to the docking of the American Queen.

Coy said regardless of the decrease, he is still pleased with the turnout and with the visitor’s positive responses.

“I just get such positive feedback from people who do come here that I’m always very proud of Natchez,” Coy said.

Anne MacNeil, owner of Elmscourt, said she is pleased with the turnout at her home in its first three days of tours.

“My numbers have gone up every day,” she said.

From group to individual tours, she’s seen people from all over the country and even from Canada.

Her numbers have reached 100-plus each day and the last day, she did her own personal head count and got 188.

Downtown shops, hotels and restaurants are also enjoying the influx of out-of-towners.

Darby’s Gifts and Decorative Accessories is seeing more customers than usual.

Owner Darby Short said there’s a big difference comparing number of customers now to a month ago.

“Even Sundays have been busy,” Short said.

Johnathon Wood, director of Old South Trading Post, said he’s seen more foreign visitors in his store this Pilgrimage.

“We’re also seeing an influx in the family travel for spring break,” he said.

Mary Lees Wilson, owner of One of a Kind, said the difference in amount of customers is very noticeable.

She said she appreciates the trolley being back in service.

“It just makes the whole downtown seem more alive,” Wilson said.

Hotels are packing people in, too.

Janelle Williams, general manager for Hampton Inn, said they are at 90 percent capacity, and the normal percentage is between 75 and 80.

“This month we’ve had five tour groups come in,” she said.

Natchez National Historical Park is benefiting from Pilgrimage.

Melissa Tynes, park ranger, said visitation is up about 3 percent.