Special Events

Mardi Gras party business thin this year, experts say

Mardi Gras—the annual “Fat Tuesday” bacchanal in New Orleans ushering in the austere Lenten season—was a bit thin for some event planners this year, as the early Feb. 8 date and conflict with mega-event the Super Bowl--in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6--cut into business.

“The timing of Mardi Gras always affects party attendance,” says Brian Kern, head of Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World in New Orleans (www.mardigrasworld.com). “It’s always best when Mardi Gras falls in March. A Mardi Gras in early February is always terrible.”

Kern reports seeing “way fewer people” in town for Mardi Gras, with attendance off at some events by nearly 15 percent. His business of school tours, which run from 12th Night (Jan. 6) to the beginning of Lent, fell off as the tours had to be squeezed into only four weeks.

For Shelley Rote of DMC Signature Events in New Orleans (www.signature-dmc.com), corporate clients caught in the calendar squeeze opted for Super Bowl parties rather than Mardi Gras events. “We usually have at least one” corporate and incentive event tied to Mardi Gras each year, she notes, but the business didn’t materialize this year.

However, other local event pros say that the early Mardi Gras kept away the college kids who normally flock to Mardi Gras on their spring break, but other groups, such as families, still showed up to party in droves.

“We had a very successful Mardi Gras 2005; our rooms were occupied and our Bourbon Street hospitality balconies were filled with revelers drinking and eating,” reports Rick Vita, director of catering and conference services for the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans (www.royalsonestano.com). He reports that f&b revenues this year topped 2004 tallies.

Angela Day, director of public relations for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.neworleanscvb.com), reports that hotel occupancy rates for the four nights before Mardi Gras 2005 are virtually on par with the figures for 2004. She adds that air traffic into the city was actually 2 percent higher this year than last.

Vita is eager for Mardi Gras 2006. “It will be a special year as the city celebrates the 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans,” he notes. “Fat Tuesday 2006 is only 370 days away …. ”

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