Cherry Blossom Festival

How much does the Cherry Blossom Festival impact Macon’s economy?

Watch highlights of the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Thousands of people lined Cherry and Mulberry streets Sunday for the 38th Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.
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Thousands of people lined Cherry and Mulberry streets Sunday for the 38th Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.

For some people, it’s the attraction of the amusement rides or the food at the pink pancake breakfast. For others,maybe it’s the downtown parade that brings them out for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon.

The attendance at the 10-day festival fluctuates based on the weather and the timing of the blooming of the 300,000-plus Yoshino cherry trees. While most attention surrounds the sights and sounds of the events, there’s another important side — the economic impact — that the festival has on Middle Georgia.

A University of Georgia study found the Cherry Blossom Festival has $10 million-$12 million annual economic impact.

The financial impact comes from a variety of factors, including taxes, money spent by overnight guests at hotels, people eating at restaurants, shopping and more.

The business community benefits from local and visitors patronizing their businesses, Cherry Blossom Festival President and CEO Stacy Moore said.

“It’s a very important brand for the community and very important moment of who Macon-Bibb County is,” Moore said about the festival. “I think the community loves it because it’s the one time of the year everyone puts everything else aside and enjoys each other.”

Cherry Blossom’s officials touted several years ago that the festival brought in as much as $180 million to the Macon community over its first three decades.

Now there are more up-to-date numbers from the 2018 festival.

However, since the Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over multiple days with numerous events, getting an exact grasp of the economic impact can be a little tricky, said Gary Wheat, president and CEO of Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Macon.

“Not every visitor is going to go to every event and not every event is gated or ticketed so sometimes it’s challenging to accurately grab that,” he said.

There is an industry-wide formula that the CVB has started using to project the financial impact in the city.

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In 2018, the Cherry Blossom Festival organization was able to verify that about 100,000 people attended events and an estimated 30 percent of them were from out of town.

Last year’s festival was hampered by bad weather, however the overall attendance was likely larger than 100,000 when other non-ticketed events like the Cherry Blossom Parade are factored in. (An estimated 230,000 attended the festival in 2015)

The CVB estimates that average spending per person was $30, which means the direct economic impact was $3 million in 2018.

“If you look at it $29, $30 per person is conservative,” Wheat said.

This year, an average of 45 people per day were part of an overnight motor coach groups. That comes out to about $22,000 spent each day for on hotel, meals, tourist attractions and other areas are factored.

There were also sold out daily van tours that take people along the Cherry Blossom Riding Trail.

“This year has been exceptional for us from what we’ve observed because the weather has been great,” Wheat said. “The blossoms came out in time. Everything came together in a perfect synergy.”

Cherry Blossom is a non-profit organization and receives some of its funding from donations, sponsors and ticketed events. The organization also gets a share of Macon-Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax revenue, which was about $280,000 for the festival in fiscal year 2017.

One of the downtown businesses benefiting from the Cherry Blossom Festival is Michael’s On Mulberry. The final weekend should be a big draw with the Mulberry Street Arts & Crafts Festival happening outside the restaurant’s front door.

“I would say the (festival) helps with foot traffic,” restaurant manager Stephanie Coley said. ““It’s been steady here, but we’re planning to be very busy for the street festival on Saturday and Sunday.”

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