Blooming crowds: Tourism officials say numbers are vibrant
NATCHEZ — Despite a dip in numbers mid-season, local tourism officials say the Spring Pilgrimage season has recovered from that slump and is heading into higher attendance as it draws to a close.
Spring Pilgrimage, the annual showcase of historic homes and performance events in Natchez, will officially close Tuesday.
Officials with Natchez Pilgrimage Tours — which manages ticket sales for Pilgrimage-related events — said official numbers aren’t available and won’t be final until mid-month.
But Natchez Tourism Director Kevin Kirby said the area has had a “very vibrant” tourism spring season.
“We had some fickle weather in the early part and middle of March that led to some slow numbers, but all that considered from a visitation standpoint we have seen a very healthy visitation and an ever growing number of international travelers,” Kirby said.
“Our numbers look good for March and are increased over last year. The numbers are higher than they have been.”
Kirby said bus tours have increased this spring, but it seems another number of visitors to the area has grown as well — non-visitors.
“Though we don’t track it, it appears that there are a lot more local visitors — staycations if you will — who are taking in the local community this year, folks who might have never done a tour or seen the Tableaux before deciding to do that,” he said.
Bridget Green, president of the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours board of directors and owner-operator of The Burn, said the spring season “flew by” this year.
Part of what made the season exciting was an early interest in the revamping of the Historic Natchez Tableaux, she said. The re-enactment of historic southern life was changed to run more like a play than small vignettes, recorded elements were added and stories from the area’s black history — including slave auctions and the later destruction of the Forks of the Road market — were incorporated
“With the new Tableaux, the excitement this year was something that engaged all of Natchez, and it has been a very upbeat Spring Pilgrimage,” Green said.
“The tourists that have stayed at our bed and breakfast and those that I have talked to on the home tours I have had very positive responses to the changes. Some of them had even seen Tableaux in the past, but I did not speak to anyone who did not enjoy it.”
Green said in her conversations with other private homeowners, the groups who have come this year have been particularly engaged.
“They seem to be delighted with Natchez, and there are some that have been here before and come back year after year, while for others this is their first time to Natchez, and they are all enthusiastic about returning in the future,” she said.
Green said based on her conversations with visitors, this year’s crowds were more likely to be in the area specifically for the tours being offered.
“From what I gathered from those that I spoke with, they were here for Pilgrimage. They wanted to see the private homes, they were interested in history and architecture and furnishing,” Green said. “There was a wide variety of interest.”
Kirby said he has observed a more “general awareness” of Natchez following advertising pushes and trade-show marketing in the last year. The soft launch for the city’s tricentennial in 2016 is likewise bringing in those in the region who are curious about exploring the area, he said.
“People are discovering Natchez by our promotional efforts,” he said. “We have marketed in the state and beyond, and we have reached to the Canadian market. We also recently had a presence on the ‘Good Morning America’ sign board.”
Kirby said even though the main tourism event is wrapping up this week, events through the year — and those leading up to the tricentennial — should keep numbers strong.
“The ability to bring people in isn’t exclusive to the pilgrimage anymore,” he sad.
“By virtue of the fact Natchez is a destination, a wonderful place to come and relax, find yourself and enjoy the hospitality, it is a great get-away place.”