- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) - Natchez tourism officials and antebellum homeowners are excited about the young, diverse crowd that visited during Spring Pilgrimage this year.

However, the excitement was tempered by the overall decrease in visitors from last year.

Final numbers for ticket sales and visitors are still being analyzed by Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, according to NPT Director Emily Edwards.

Some preliminary data, Edwards said, shows a decrease in visitors from last year, but an increase in other facets of tourism.

“It does look like there’s a slight decrease as far as how ticket sales look, but some things were up, like dining,” Edwards said. “We’re still analyzing all the numbers, but everyone seems to be in agreement that we had fewer visitors because of the weather.

“It was a hard winter (up north), and we were dealt a rough hand.”

Pilgrimage Garden Club president Bridget Green, who also owns and operates The Burn with her husband, said she received significant feedback from visitors about how weather impacted travel plans.

“I think a lot of tourists weren’t traveling like they usually do, and we lost a lot of big busses because of the weather,” Green said. “When those individuals can’t leave home to come here and visit, it just wreaks havoc on Spring Pilgrimage.

“With that being said, I think it was a very good pilgrimage because we had a lot different demographics of tourists this year.”

Green said she was excited to see an increase of young visitors, family groups and black tourists viewing the Natchez antebellum houses.

Green said she couldn’t put her finger on what led to the different demographics, but did say those groups also appeared to be interested in different things in the house than in years past.

“In the past, we’ve gotten a lot of tourists that come for the architecture and decorative art in the houses, but this year more people seemed to be interested in the history which was different,” Green said. “We’ve added some of that here, and I know some of the mansion houses are on track to start doing some more research to bring more history into these tours.”

Last year, Green added a new dimension of history to her house tour by telling a new story of a Union soldier who stayed at The Burn in 1864.

Continually adding new layers of history to the tours is what Green said is key for the houses on tour to attract and please the visitors who came to Natchez this season.

“The tourists we had this year were very engaged and had this energy that we hadn’t felt in years,” Green said.

“They were asking more in-depth questions and wanting to learn more about the history of the house and what happened here.”

President of the homeowner’s association Regina Charbenoua, who owns and operates Twin Oaks with her husband, said she was “amazed” to see more young faces in the crowds during tours.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see an increase in the 30 to 60 year-old crowd and it was just visibly noticeable how many younger faces you would see,” Charbenoua said. “I was also amazed at the questions people would ask because they seemed like they really wanted to know every single thing about the people that lived in these houses.

“It’s translating into a younger, more inquisitive visitor, which is great.”

Charbenoua said she wasn’t able to determine what led the surge of young tourists to Natchez, but did credit social media for playing a role.

“All of the homes are privately owned, so we don’t get any assistance from city, state or government so we really have to do everything we can on our own to get people here,” Charbenoua said.

“The whole social media aspect is just a wonderful tool we can use.”

Edwards said NPT officials would continue analyzing the numbers to pinpoint what brought the new visitors to town and how to ensure they, and similar visitors, continue coming to Natchez.

“This is an ongoing thing,” Edwards said. “We don’t necessarily have one new strategy, but we are starting to look at where to put our advertising and marketing dollars.”

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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