While pink is the popular color around Macon during the Cherry Blossom Festival, some businesses say that can translate to a lot of green.
I think its very beneficial for most of the downtown area with restaurants and hotels, said Matt Barlett, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Macon/Mercer University. I know we will have on the weekend mostly people who are here for the Cherry Blossom Festival. We have a couple of tour groups coming in, one this weekend and one next weekend. ... We will be close to 100 percent (occupancy) every single day from Friday to next Sunday.
While the majority of festival-goers are from Middle Georgia, according to a 2008 study, tour groups bring in people from outside the area.
As of last week, 42 tour groups had registered with the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, compared with 39 last year, said Communication Manager Valerie Bradley. But some groups dont book in advance, so that number could go up, she said.
The Cherry Blossom Festival office also arranges tour groups, but Karen Lambert, festival president and CEO said she didnt have the numbers for this year available.
The festival has a huge impact, Lambert said. All you have to do is walk out of your house and see the buses and people in downtown Macon and all over the city and county. People come out and they love the festival and they enjoy the trees. They are eating and sleeping and spending money in our town.
CVB records show March as having the highest monthly hotel occupancy at area hotels for the last two years. The occupancy rate was 54.9 percent in 2010 and 55.5 percent in 2011.
Even though the Homewood Suites on Bass Road is not close to festival activities, General Manager Cathy Garofalo said the hotel feels the impact.
Friday nights are usually not very busy for us (because the hotel caters to business travelers), but we are already at 90 percent (occupancy) for the second Friday, which means we only have nine rooms left, Garofalo said. Thats huge for us.
She didnt know for sure if all the guests were festival related.
The last three weekends have been good, she said. There is a lot going on in Macon. ... I think the whole city is feeling the impact because so many people are coming in this year for the festival. Honestly, I see it more so (now) than in previous years. Im excited about it. Its good old-fashioned fun, packing up the kids and going to the festival and the Mulberry Street Festival, too.
An economic impact study done in December 2008 by the former Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, showed that about 125,000 people participated in the 2008 festival, and the total economic impact of the festival was $19.2 million.
Businesses mixed on festival benefit
Obviously with the additional people in downtown Macon, its great for our business, said Michael Taylor, owner of Between the Bread Cafe and Michaels on Mulberry.
The various festival events bring people downtown who normally dont come downtown, Taylor said. Particularly convenient to his business are events at the Grand Opera House and the Mulberry Street Festival on the second weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Overall, its one of our best weeks of the year, he said. If the weather cooperates, I would say it more than doubles our business.
Taylor keeps regular hours during the festival, except he opens the restaurant on the second Sunday -- a day hes usually closed.
The restaurant is one of the downtown facilities large enough to handle tour groups, he said. One of the groups at his restaurant next week will have 26 people and the other will have 46 people.
Out of town visitors pay a lot of compliments to Macon, he said.
They talk about how beautiful it is and how nice everyone is, he said. How willing we are to speak to them on the sidewalks without knowing them. They think Macon is charming.
Taylors view of the festival comes from experience. Next month he will have been in business 20 years, with 17 of that downtown.
Some other restaurants dont get the same amount of business from the Cherry Blossom Festival, but it seems to have more to do with location.
Although the Burger King on Riverside Drive near Spring Street draws customers getting off and on Interstate 75 and Interstate 16, it doesnt draw a lot of extra people during the festival, said Tom Wilson, vice president of human resources with Schuster Enterprises Inc. which owns the restaurant.
Our division manager said a lot depend on the weather, and business is fairly negligible during the festival, Wilson said. One reason ... the restaurant is about four, five blocks from the main activities.
Also, Gus Barragan, owner of Acapulco at the corner of Third and Cherry streets downtown, said his business is hurt during the week when Third Street is closed between Mulberry and Cherry streets for various activities.
It really hurts my business when they block the street and my regular customers cant get through, Barragan said. But during the two Saturdays, they dont block the streets and I can see a difference. Its pretty good.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.