By Carolyn Roy
The Christmas season in Natchitoches signals the return of an economic driver during the holidays—-the tour buses. While the cost of gasoline and plethora of attractions in other areas has diminished the number of buses visiting here, those that do still have an impact. Arlene Gould, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the leisure visitor season seems to begin with the APHN Fall Tour. “They begin trickling in and visit until after Christmas.” While those on board visit retail businesses, their main impact is on restaurants. Gould says the buses also frequently fuel up. Rose Cox, owner of Merci Beaucoup Gift Shop, says business from those on board tour buses does not represent a major part of her revenue, they frequent her shop to buy small items they can carry on.
“That’s always a positive. Anytime anyone makes a purchase, it’s good.” Katherine Johnson is the Group Tours and Special Events coordinator at the visitors center. She says in 2016, the office calculated that 216 motor coaches visited Natchitoches. They carry from 35-52 passengers. Johnson monitors hotels and motels to determine the number. While most buses once arrived from East Texas, Johnson says many now start in south Louisiana, especially in Hammond, New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge. There is one bus that comes every year from Little Rock, Ark., and two begin in Oklahoma City. If the tour operators request it, Johnson will prepare welcome packages with information about local attractions and put them in their lodging accommodations. She gives the operators tips about upcoming events and attractions and places to eat and stay. Johnson says overnight visitors seem to balance staying in the Historic District and at places on Interstate 49. Johnson said in addition to the scheduled bus visits, others visit on their own.