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Recently, I found myself talking business with Santa Claus. Specifically, I was chatting with Santa Bob and Mrs. Beth Claus, a local couple who make professional appearances at holiday events. We met at a kick-off luncheon held on Thursday, Sept. 28 to announce details of the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights, which is a partnership between eight North Louisiana cities. Since 1992, the cities of Alexandria-Pineville, Minden, Monroe-West Monroe, Natchitoches and Shreveport-Bossier have banded together to promote holiday tourism in North Louisiana. If anyone in Shreveport-Bossier can attest to the economic impact of the holidays, Santa Bob is that person.
“In Shreveport-Bossier, we do Christmas everywhere,” Santa Bob says. “Mrs. Claus and I have been contacted by everyone from a chain of tractor dealerships to a jewelry store. We’re even appearing at a basketball tournament. Businesses that have not participated in the past are reaching out to do Santa events. I’ve seen a definite increase over previous years.”
Santa Bob is not the only one with high hopes for the holiday season of 2017. Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau, knows a thing or two about the economic impact of holiday events. The 2017 Festival of Lights in Natchitoches will attract an estimated 200,000 visitors to Natchitoches, Nov. 18 through Jan. 6, and will include the city’s 91st Annual Christmas Festival on Saturday, Dec. 2. Gould is especially excited because this year’s festivities will be the first to make use of the all-new Rue Beauport Riverfront.
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“For our local businesses, the holidays are very important,” Gould says. “Our Christmas festivities used to be just the first Saturday in December, but the crowds got bigger and bigger, and we had to extend it. Now, the lights come on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.”
Smaller cities feel the impact of the holiday season, as well. In Minden, Johnnye Kennon serves as interim executive director of The Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau. Kennon says that, since Minden’s brick-paved, historic downtown is more of a daytrip destination, the city benefits from increased holiday visitation to larger cities nearby. Holiday travelers who overnight in Monroe-West Monroe or Shreveport-Bossier are likely to consider a daytime shopping excursion to Minden’s antique shops and boutiques.
“What we have to offer is our ‘old world’ feel, with our Old World Christmas Lights Spectacular and our Annual Candlelight Tour of Homes on December 9,” Kennon says. “Many visitors come in on Interstate 20, spend the night in Shreveport-Bossier, and get up and do a day trip to Minden. Then, often, they’ll travel right on down I-20 to Monroe-West Monroe.”
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During the 2016 holiday season, nearly 50 group tours visited one or more cities along the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights. Ten bus tours visited Shreveport-Bossier, with an estimated direct economic impact of $123,750. Stacy Brown, President of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, sees the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights partnership as an integral part of the effort to increase tourism in Shreveport-Bossier during two months that typically represent a lull in tourism.
“We see this partnership as extremely critical to boosting a peak need time for overnight visitation in November and December,” Brown says. “That’s why Shreveport-Bossier has been a part of the Holiday Trail of Lights since its inception in 1992.”
At Thursday’s luncheon, Brown shared details of dozens of new and returning holiday events currently being planned along the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights. All of those events, as well as info on group tour services and lodging, can be found at www.HolidayTrailofLights.com.
Chris Jay is the public relations and social media manager for the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. Email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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