Drawing crowds

Published 12:15 am Friday, October 7, 2011

ERIC SHELTON / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Tour guide Scott Smith talks to tourists at Cherokee during the Fall Pilgrimage tour Thursday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — While guests are beholding the black Egyptian marble mantle, sandstone portico and ornate Rococo mirrors at Cherokee, homeowners and tour organizers alike are keeping a closer eye on ticket sales.

First-time hosts Mike and Sharon Blatter said they have enjoyed opening their house, Cherokee, to Fall Pilgrimage tourists, but they will wait to see how the second week of tours plays out before deciding to open in the spring.

The Blattners said, so far, between 50 and 100 people have stopped by the house on High Street each blue tour day.

ERIC SHELTON / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Tour guide Peggy Sandel gives the history of the artifacts in one of the rooms inside Cherokee during the Fall Pilgrimage tour Thursday afternoon

And just around the corner at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours office, the overall Fall Pilgrimage numbers are looking strong.

Marsha Colson, general manager of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours said, so far, group sales are up 20 percent over Fall Pilgrimage 2010, and are up 7 percent in individual ticket sales.

Sales have strengthened, Colson said, because of a slightly less troubling economic outlook, good weather and lower gas prices — especially for the individual sales.

“The traffic has been lively,” Colson said. “Everyone I talk to said there seem to be a lot more people around town, and I am seeing a lot of people I don’t know in restaurants.”

Colson said she was glad to see good attendance at Sweet Auburn’s tours, since the house is open to the public for the first time.

“On the first day they had steady groups coming in — six to eight people a time,” Colson said. “That’s a nice number. Larger groups generally make for a better tour.”

Cherokee had been open for tours by previous owners, and after four years of privacy, the Blattners decided to give it a try themselves.

The Blattners bought Cherokee in May 2008. They said the serene, multi-level gardens sold them on the house, and it was too pretty to keep all to themselves.

“It screams to be shared,” Sharon said. “It’s a treasure we can’t hold on to for ourselves.”

The Blattners said a mix of both locals and tourists have come to tour Cherokee.

Colson said tour numbers have been trending up for several years — group tour numbers more steadily and significantly than individual numbers.

“We had a couple of seasons where individual sales were not up so much,” Colson said. “Weather is a big part of it. While people are coming from all over country, and the world, most come from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. So a lot of those people are making day trips, and a lot of times making a decision at the last minute based on weather.”

Colson said dipping gas prices might be fueling more individual sales.

“That helps,” Colson said. “Gas doesn’t affect groups, but it does for individuals — particularly while people are still worried about the economy. Individuals are watching their spending, and making decisions based on how much a product will cost them.”

Colson said final Fall Pilgrimage financial reports will return toward the end of November.

Red tour houses are open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 today, featuring Sweet Auburn, Selma and Brandon Hall. Pleasant Hill, Rip-Rap and Oak Hill are open from 1:30 to 5 p.m. for the afternoon pink tour.