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Pilgrimage group sales jump 24 percent

Natchez — Fall Pilgrimage group tour ticket sales spiked 24 percent this year and were the determining factor in making this year’s pilgrimage a success, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Executive Director Martha Colson said.

Individual ticket sales dropped this year, Colson said, but the success of group tours countered the drop, and overall pilgrimage sales were up 2 percent from 2010.

Colson said she and others felt that there were more people in town during pilgrimage, but she said numbers indicate a drop in pilgrimage visitors.

Colson said 8,964 people stopped at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center during pilgrimage this year — 1,000 fewer people than last year. She said although not everyone who visits Natchez stops in the visitor center.

“It is certainly an indicator that the number of people that were visiting is down,” Colson said.

The number of visitors may have been down, but Colson said it is a good sign group tours are increasing.

“Over the last 10 years, they have been on the decline up until the past two years,” she said.

Pilgrimage wasn’t as successful as Colson first anticipated, but she said she was pleased with this year’s turnout.

“The people that came out were very enthusiastic,” Colson said.

Natchez Litter Theatre Director Layne Taylor said attendance was down at the theater during pilgrimage. He said he had four group tours attend shows at the theater, down from 11 groups last year.

Taylor said there was good attendance from local residents, but tickets sales were down approximately 20 percent during pilgrimage.

“One thing I kept hearing from visitors at the theater was that it was too hot to be fall pilgrimage, and there was nothing autumnal about the weather,” he said.

Taylor said he could sense there were less people in town.

Colson said the tough economy and high gas prices could have kept people from coming to Natchez for pilgrimage.

“I, myself, am watching my pennies, and just about everyone I know is,” she said. “So that is certainly a factor.”

Colson said visitors in town for pilgrimage may have elected to save money by driving themselves around town instead of purchasing guided tours or eating in instead of dining out to save money.

Colson said pilgrimage group tours are planned six months to a year in advance giving people plenty of time to factor in all costs and save money to make the trip.

Colson said she suspects visitors were spending less.

Colson said overall pilgrimage went well and could be an indication the holiday season in Natchez will be successful.

“I think Christmas will be up simply because there are more events this year, and the committee does such a good job promoting it,” she said.

Colson said although group tours brought a lot of people to town, the city and its people are what attracts tourists to town.

“The friendliness of our people, the beauty of the town, architecture and diversity are all factors that always bring people to Natchez,” she said.