COLUMBUS, Miss. — It is said history repeats itself, an adage that proves true in the repeated success of the Columbus Spring Pilgrimage, the two-week tour and celebration of historic homes and Southern culture in Columbus, Mississippi. The 74th annual Pilgrimage, scheduled for March 28 through April 12, 2014, has just been named a “Top 20 Event in the Southeast” by the Southeastern Tourism Society (STS), beginning in 1986 the event has earned the critical STS designation.
2014 Pilgrimage was selected by a panel of independent judges evaluating a region-wide pool of nominations submitted by locations from all across the STS 12-state area. “Naturally, we’re very pleased that Spring Pilgrimage was chosen again this year,” Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said of the selection. “With such a competitive field of nominations, this really speaks to the excellence of our event.”
The STS designation carries important impact, not only as an assurance of quality respected by travel planners and key members of the tourism industry, but also as an effective avenue for promotion, as the Top 20 Events informational material is sent to more than 1,600 media outlets, including newspapers, radio and television stations, AAA publications and others.
Carpenter expects the high profile coverage will help the 2014 Spring Pilgrimage meet or even exceed the success of the 2013 event, which attracted the largest Pilgrimage attendance in a decade. Held April 1 through April 13, 2013, the 73rd annual Pilgrimage drew more than 10,000 visitors from 46 different states and 16 different countries, numbers which represent a 1,000-person increase in visitors over 2012. Also, in 2013, revenues from Pilgrimage tickets rose 38% over 2012, even as satisfied visitors toured, stayed, shopped, dined—and left behind an economic impact that topped $1 million.
While strategic promotion, including the Top 20 Event designation for 2013, was in part responsible for 2013’s growth in attendance, Pilgrimage’s long-term record of success may also be explained by one simple fact. While history repeats itself, Pilgrimage does not; the CVB has continued to make the event a richer and more vibrant experience through ongoing enhancements and diverse additions. Collaborating with local partners, including the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Columbus Air Force Base, and Mississippi University for Women, the CVB has created a Pilgrimage with broadened appeal for a wide range of ages and interests, with festival highlights that include not only tours of some of the finest historic homes in the nation, but also events like garden and church tours, award-winning Tales from the Crypt, Downtown Block Party and Crawfish Boil, Noon Tunes concerts, a 10K run through Historic Southside, the Mayor’s Unity Picnic and Artisans Alley, where browsers can shop and savor handcrafted period items and foods. New in 2014 will be a floral design show with an internationally known designer, Hitomi of Van Couver, British Columbia, a garden party, and a story-telling festival.
Pilgrimage enhancements have also yielded greater and more enthusiastic participation by local volunteers, which in 2013 numbered over 400, participation which Carpenter expects to match in 2014.
“Our local residents are tremendously supportive of Pilgrimage,” notes Carpenter. “When visitors come here from other areas of the nation and the world, they take home and share memories of wonderful Columbus hospitality. The worth of that is immeasurable.”