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Spring Pilgrimage tour numbers grow

ERIC J. SHELTON — THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Marsha Colson introduces herself to a group of tourists at the Lansdowne Thursday afternoon as part of the 2011 Spring Pilgrimage green Tour.

NATCHEZ — Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez is halfway complete and the first 20 days of the 2011 season have provided the city with more promising results than in years past, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Executive Director Marsha Colson said.

While 2010 boasted less than stellar numbers for the city and homeowners, the 2011 season has started off with a bang, Colson said.

“We are doing a lot better than last year,” she said. “Our group and individual sales are both up.”

Colson said so far the city has received 118 groups through the halfway point this year compared to 87 total buses for all of the 2010 pilgrimage season.

“That is around a 35 percent increase,” she said. “And we are just at the halfway point.”

Individual sales also started out well ahead of last year, Colson said.

“(Sales) have dropped off a little bit, but we are still way ahead of last year in terms of individual ticket sales,” she said.

Colson said the bulk of the pilgrimage sales have been from people driving within a 200-mile radius of Natchez.

Elms Court owner Anne MacNeil said she has been very pleased with the number of tourists she has seen at her house this year.

“There have been more group tours than I have had in many years,” she said. “I had none last year, and that really makes a difference when you have groups with 50 or more passengers trying to see your house.”

MacNeil said having a house succeed in pilgrimage is really all about the luck of the draw.

“We have all been in this business for a long time,” she said. “Some years you have groups and others you don’t.”

The Natchez Garden Club operates Magnolia Hall and the House on Ellicott Hill and garden club house director Rose Borum said both houses have seen an increase in both group and ticket sales.

“The numbers are up and everything is looking great,” she said. “I was concerned when gas prices went up, but I don’t think it has hindered the numbers at all.”

In addition to a larger number of groups arriving in Natchez for pilgrimage, Borum said the houses are selling more tickets to individuals.

“It has been very promising,” she said.

Homeowners have not been the only ones who have enjoyed a growth in tour attendance.

Natchez Little Theatre Director and Historic Natchez Tableaux Director Layne Taylor said the attendance at both the tableaux and “Southern Exposure” has been higher than previous years.

“Our weeknight performances of ‘Southern Exposure’ have been playing to full houses,” he said. “On the weekends we are not full, but are close to capacity.”

Taylor said the attendance is one of the best he has seen in his 16 years of pilgrimage.

“I can’t remember the last time the shows were this full,” he said. “We are averaging three buses for each night of the show.”

Colson said the positive first half of the 2011 Spring Pilgrimage season can be attributed to the many changes Natchez made to the overall experience.

“We made changes and we publicized them,” she said.

“It has drawn more attention from people from all over the area.”

Colson said the changes have also brought more local residents back out to enjoy the festivities.

“People who have not been in a long time and didn’t have any personal reason to see it are now going and looking at it with fresh eyes and are saying it is good,” she said. “And we hope they are going to tell others to go see it too.”

With 16 days of pilgrimage left, Colson said she is excited about the rest of what is to come.

“This is about the point when I am thinking about how good pilgrimage is going to turn out,” she said. “And right now I am pleased.”

Borum said the second half of pilgrimage is usually busier, and she is hoping for even more success.

“Let’s just hope things keep going as well as they are going,” she said.

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