Spring Pilgrimage ends with increased ticket sales

Published 12:06 am Sunday, April 15, 2012

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Hostesses Nancy Blancé, left, and Kay McNeil, right, smile and greet visitors as they pass through the foyer of The Elms on their tour during Spring Pilgrimage on April 10. McNeil is a historian at Historic Jefferson College.

NATCHEZ — High gas prices and tight budgets may have kept some tourists from visiting Natchez during Pilgrimage, but Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Executive Director Marsha Colson said Pilgrimage had an overall good year.

Colson said individual ticket sales were up 5 to 10 percent throughout most of Pilgrimage, but she said sales dropped around Easter.

“That’s pretty typical for the last week and especially for a time like Easter,” she said.

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Fewer bus tours made the trip to Pilgrimage this year, Colson said, knocking the overall numbers down a bit.

Colson said she believes overall numbers will be slightly lower than last year, which she said was the best year for Pilgrimage in a long time.

“I can’t put my finger on what is different about this year,” Colson said. “Gas prices went up, that is one thing, and I’m sure the economy, even though we were worried about it last year too, had some effect on people’s travel budgets.”

Gov. Holmes House owner Eugenie Cates said the house had a steady stream of visitors during Pilgrimage this year, possibly more than last year.

“Every day is a little different, but we definitely had a good year,” she said. “The town looked great, the weather was perfect; it was a good year.”

Stella Carby, who owns Greenlea with her husband, Philip, said Greenlea’s numbers more than likely averaged out to be close to the same as last year, which meant a good year for the house.

“But I remember the days when we had a 1,000 people in a house in one day,” she said. “Unfortunately, now I think we’re too much of a well-kept secret.”

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Hostess Peggy Sandhill takes visitors inside Hope Farm to start their visit.

Carby said marketing Pilgrimage is very expensive, but she said as the economy improves she believes Pilgrimage numbers will rise.

“We thoroughly enjoy it, and it’s just something we’re going to keep at and continue to hang in there,” she said.

Pilgrimage Garden Club Tableaux Co-Chair Martha Salters and Natchez Garden Club Chair Kim McAndrews said they were both very pleased with Historic Natchez Tableaux this year.

“People were so complimentary every night,” Salters said. “I heard ‘delightful’ over and over again.”

Tableaux attendance fluctuated throughout Pilgrimage, Salters said.

“Judging from the crowds, we did good,” she said. “We had good attendance a lot of nights, but we had several nights it was very low. The weekend of Easter made it very hard to have good attendance then.”

McAndrews said she believes tableaux attendance was about the same as last year, despite the economy, gas prices and high cost of advertising for Pilgrimage.

“It was a good year,” she said. “Of course, we would always like to have more people attend, but I don’t think we lost too much ground, given the circumstances.”

Natchez Little Theatre Executive Director Layne Taylor said approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people visited the theater during the 26 shows it put on during Spring Pilgrimage. Taylor said the theatre average approximately five buses a week, some of which came through Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and others booked individually.

Not all of the theater-goers during Pilgrimage were tourists, though.

“The shows were very well attended by locals, not just tourists, this year,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he believes the theater’s final figures will be reflect a good year and be close to the same as last year.

“If it’s up a little or down a little, it’s not going to be noticeable,” he said.

Everyone agrees this year’s Spring Pilgrimage went well, Colson said. She said she hopes Pilgrimage’s popularity continues to grow.

“People are just getting more and more appreciative of what we do and are very amazed we open our homes,” she said. “They are just continually fascinated with Natchez.”

Colson said final numbers for Pilgrimage will more than likely be ready in May.