Pilgrimage numbers show strong jump

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The antebllum house Stanton Hall is one of the favorite attractions during Spring Pilgrimage.

NATCHEZ — Everyone involved in making Spring Pilgrimage 2011 a success is breathing a little easier now that the tours are complete and strong numbers are in.

But before crunching numbers, Marsha Colson, director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours wanted to give credit where it is due.

“So many factors helped us this year,” Colson said. “Both Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are continually doing better promotional and marketing work with press releases and brochures. The staff (at NPT) worked harder and better together than we have in a long time. The garden clubs and tableaux committee workers have also done so. It was a good pilgrimage through the effort of a whole lot of people.”

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Colson said her numbers aren’t exact, but she believes they are accurate. She is encouraged by the total number of groups who bought house tour tickets, which were up 41 percent compared to 2010. The total number of people in those groups rose 54 percent this year.

NPT statistics also show a 45 percent increase in the number of tourists staying at hotels, touring, eating in town and attending nightly entertainment in comparison to 2010.

“Total group sales have the biggest impact on the community,” Colson said.

Colson said NPT arrives at the number for meals, entertainment, tours and hotels booked through the organization.

“Of all groups that we booked, the total expenditures and income to our town, is up 45 percent,” Colson said. “There is more tourist businesses out there, but this is what we can account for.”

Individual ticket sales to Spring Pilgrimage tour houses rose 9 percent, which includes Longwood, Stanton Hall and partial sales for Rosalie, and excludes Monmouth and Dunleith.

While house tour sales were up 86 percent from last year, that number is still lower than 2005’s pre-Katrina percentages. Colson said after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, pilgrimage tourism to Natchez dropped off considerably.

“After Hurricane Katrina group tour sales fell by more than half, and individual sales by 13 percent,” Colson said. “But it is significant that we’ve made so much recovery since Katrina.”

Colson also credited changes to the Historic Natchez Tableaux and the warmth of residents as factors in making the pilgrimage successful.

“We have a wonderful product,” Colson said. “There are the magnificent houses and friendly people; all of that is great, but because interests change, product demand will wax and wane. We have to keep it fresh and respond to what people want, which are real stories.”

Layne Taylor, Natchez Little Theatre artistic and executive director and director of the Historic Natchez Tableaux, said he was impressed with the response to the theater’s production, “Southern Exposure.”

“I am very pleased,” Taylor said. “And I think the audience was very pleased. Turnout was excellent all in all, I think it was a very positive pilgrimage this year.”

Taylor said he will not run numbers until Sunday, but he said he knows that response to the show was much livelier than in the past.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy every aspect of pilgrimage this year,” Taylor said.

Katie Freiberger of Airlie agreed it was a great year for Spring Pilgrimage.

“We had people from all over the world and a lot of interesting guests,” Freiberger said.

Colson said tourism can continue to be a healthy industry in Natchez.

“For Natchez, (tourism) has endured,” Colson said.