Pilgrimage participation down from last year|[04/09/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Vicksburg Bed and Breakfast Association’s Spring Pilgrimage was plagued by poor turnout and bad weather this year, causing the association’s head to contemplate dropping the annual fall pilgrimage later this year.

“It was very slow. Everybody said they were down from last year,” said Carolyn Stephenson, B&B association president.

An average of about three people per day toured the dozen historic and antebellum homes on display over the past three weeks, said Stephenson. She said the turnout at her Annabelle, at 501 Speed St., was about half of what it was last year.

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The pilgrimage began March 15 and wrapped up Saturday — the day after severe storms carrying straight-line winds and tornadoes ripped through Vicksburg.

In addition to the bad weather on the pilgrimage’s final weekend, Stephenson blamed a slow economy for a poor turnout by tourists.

“The national economy is wreaking havoc on our tourism,” she said. “It’s not just Vicksburg; it’s nationwide. With gas prices up, grocery prices up and utility prices astronomically up, people just don’t have the money to spend on entertainment and tourism.”

Stephenson said she will speak with the association’s members in the coming weeks to decide if they would like to hold a fall homes tour this year.

“I can’t say right now if we will or will not have a fall pilgrimage. I can say fall is traditionally slower than spring, and with spring being as slow as it was we’re really going to have to think about it,” she said. “If we do have one, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board with this and beef up our advertising.”

A slow economy may not be the only thing to blame for low turnout. Stephenson said for the first time this year the B&B association did not widely advertise the event as in years past. There were no television ads at all this year, and little print advertising. Additionally, prices per tour went up for the first time in about five years, from $6 per house to $8.

Regardless of whether the fall pilgrimage will go on as planned, Stephenson said the B&B association will definitely organize another Christmas pilgrimage this year.

“Last year was our first year of the Christmas pilgrimage. We did a ’12 Nights of Christmas’ theme and it went over great. We were very encouraged coming into the spring pilgrimage,” she said.