Last year’s Carnival season had a direct economic impact of $164.3 million on the New Orleans area’s economy and a total impact — including the value of the Mardi Gras brand to the city — of $465.2 million, according to a Tulane University economist’s study that was released Monday.
The study also found Carnival accounts for 2.2 percent of the city’s $21 billion annual gross domestic product and provides $17.6 million in tax revenue to the city and other local entities.
Commissioned privately by the nonprofit Carnival Krewe Civic Foundation, the study has been conducted every other year since 2007, though it skipped 2013 because the Super Bowl was held here that year and would have skewed the numbers.
Tulane economics professor Toni Weiss said the direct impact of the 12 days ending on Fat Tuesday was up 14 percent in 2014 over the $144.1 million impact in 2011. She said that was largely due to the improvement of the national economy, which in 2011 was still somewhat hungover in the wake of the recession that followed the housing and financial crisis of a few years earlier.
The indirect impact, which attempts to capture the value of the role the Mardi Gras culture plays in attracting visitors to the city year-round, ballooned 55 percent compared with 2011, though Weiss said that was largely due to a change in methodology.
Spending by visitors staying in hotels for the celebration was estimated at $132.4 million in 2014, while food and alcohol sales were $7.2 million. The costs of Mardi Gras merchandise and services were estimated — conservatively, according to the report — at $7.3 million and $12.9 million by krewes and their members. The city’s net expenditure for security, traffic management and cleanup, among other costs, was put at $5.9 million.
The study notes that while 2.2 percent might not seem like a large percentage of the city’s total GDP, the fact that it comes from a 12-day festival “is quite remarkable in light of some of the other major industries in the city,” Weiss said.
The study also looked at the impact of spending by the krewes and their members on events, supplies, parading, food and beverages, permits and other expenses. It did so by surveying 14 of the city’s 31 krewes. It estimated spending of $70.4 million, though these figures go beyond the 12-day window of the Carnival season.
The $17.6 million in local tax revenue is based on the $465.2 million total economic impact of Mardi Gras last year. Looking only at the direct spending, Weiss said, the tax revenue was $9.3 million, with $4.3 million going to the city’s general fund, $3 million to the Orleans Parish School Board and $2 million to the Regional Transit Authority.
The gross tax revenue figures do not take into account what the city had to spend to put on Mardi Gras.
Weiss said the study would benefit from having more resources behind it and greater participation by local stakeholders, like the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and others.
Many of the figures were calculated conservatively due to the lack of data researchers could collect, she said.
For example, Weiss said, only one restaurant responded to a survey, and the report noted that visitors who stayed with relatives or through lodging websites like Airbnb.com couldn’t be counted without having researchers to do man-in-the-street surveys to get a sense of what percentage of visitors don’t stay at hotels.
“We would love to see more resources devoted to this study,” she said, noting she expects the study to grow in subsequent years.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.