Pilgrimage planners scrapping Christmas, maybe spring, events

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the heels of too few spring and fall guests, tour-home operators in Vicksburg have collectively decided to scrap this year’s Christmas Pilgrimage and possibly the Spring Pilgrimage while they attempt to retool the events.

“We’re not throwing in the towel and saying never again. We’re just taking a break to find out what it’s going to take to make it a better event in the future,” said Annabelle Bed and Breakfast owner Carolyn Stephenson, who is Vicksburg B&B Association president.

‘We’re just taking a break to find out what it’s going to take to make it a better event in the future.’

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Carolyn Stephenson

B&B Association president

Pilgrimages are weeks of special emphasis organized and advertised by the tour homes, most of which were built before the Civil War. Visitors are offered group rates and package tours.

Most tour-home owners on the Spring Pilgrimage route reported a slower than normal season, and the same was true of the majority of those who participated in the Fall Pilgrimage held Oct. 10 through last Saturday.

“We had anticipated it would be slow because of the economy, and it was very, very slow. We weren’t disappointed with the turnout, but we didn’t have high expectations to start with,” Stephenson said. “We’re just not offering anything out of the ordinary to draw people in.”

Nine owners of the city’s 14 bed and breakfast and tour homes met with Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Bill Seratt the week following the opening of the Fall Pilgrimage and decided to put future pilgrimages on hold until some ideas can be generated to make the event more successful. Seratt said the group will be meeting again in early November to discuss promotional ideas.

“We’re trying to come up with ideas to make the tour-home product more attractive to visitors by offering themed tours, demonstrations or pairing pilgrimage with other events,” said Seratt.

One issue with Vicksburg pilgrimages is there is little exclusivity to the experience, said Seratt. Unlike in Natchez, where many of the homes on the pilgrimage are not regularly open to the public for tours, every Vicksburg tour home and B&B is available to tour anytime of the year.

“There was no difference in what we were doing during pilgrimage and what is going on 52 weeks of the year,” Seratt said. “The market has grown beyond just offering a tour-home product during a designated time each year.”

The “12 Nights of Christmas” pilgrimage that was held for the first time last holiday season will not be continued this year. Stephenson said only three tour-home operators expressed interest in the event, and that level of participation would not warrant spending money on advertising. It is still unclear if the Spring Pilgrimage — historically the most popular pilgrimage in Vicksburg — will be scheduled.

“Perhaps if we can find some other events or promotions to coordinate it with we will get a Spring Pilgrimage together,” said Stephenson. “We just feel like we need to offer something more exciting and more dazzling when we collectively open up our homes to tourists again.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com.