Spring Pilgrimage stats reflect trend

Published 12:04 am Sunday, April 18, 2010

NATCHEZ — Spring Pilgrimage tourists are trendy.

Marsha Colson, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours director, said the statistics from this year’s pilgrimage show that Natchez’s visitors fit into the new travel trend that, right now, isn’t necessarily a positive.

“Right now, all across tourism, the trend is that people are still traveling but they are staying fewer nights and doing fewer things,” she said. “Our numbers reflect that trend.”

The number of group tours booked through NPT rose from last year’s 75 tours to 87 this year.

“Group tours were up 15 percent,” Colson said. “That isn’t to say that there were 15 percent more people. The groups were actually smaller than last year.”

Colson said another category, bed and breakfast arrivals booked through Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, were up by 150 percent.

“These arrivals have been way down the last couple of seasons, but they jumped this year,” Colson said. “The income, however, was only up a fraction because the number of nights booked by guests were down.”

Individual ticket sales were down 8 percent from last year, Colson said.

“I have been wracking my brain and analyzing the numbers I have to try to figure out what went well this year and where we need focus our attention,” Colson said.

“People are having to make all kinds of decisions on where to go and what to do.”

Colson said before the next Spring Pilgrimage, tourism officials are going to have to go back to basics if tourism numbers are going to improve. She said new ways of getting the word out about Natchez are going to have to implemented to make sure more people are hearing about visiting Natchez.

“Anyone who cares about tourism in Natchez and wants to promote it is going to have to take a handful of promotional materials when they travel and put them in places for people to see them,” she said.

“We are going to create a speaker’s bureau of sorts to have people speak to groups about Natchez and get the word out that way.

“(Tourism officials) can’t travel as much as we’d like to, so we are going to have to implement other ways of getting information about Natchez to potential visitors.”

Plans have also started to add events to the spring calendar and tweak some of the house tours, Colson said.

“We are already working on implanting something called Characters in Costume in various houses,” she said.

“Instead of someone telling the guest about the room, someone in the house will actually portray a person who lived in the house or was closely connected to the house. It will be a much more personal, real life experience.”

But first, Colson said, potential visitors have to know the reasons to come to Natchez.

“We have to do a better job of selling our town and what it has to offer,” Colson said. “There are antebellum and historic homes all over the Southeast, so there are plenty of places for people to go and have a similar experience. We need to show people what is so special about our beautiful town.

“Although other places may have historic homes and landmarks, we have a tremendously high concentration of them. We have to tell people that why we are unique.”