Early statistics paint a mixed picture of the 2016 Carnival season in New Orleans.
Flights were up, but hotel occupancy rates were down. Police had fewer calls for service, but Emergency Medical Services was nearly as busy as last year.
The city undertook a massive effort to clean parade routes in what officials say was record time, and its parking enforcers also were busy, handing out about 10 percent as many tickets in just 10 days as they did in all of last year.
How the crowds compared with previous years, however, is a game of guessing and observation. New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Stephen Perry said the city appeared to get more traffic this year from celebrants who drove in for the day rather than booking a hotel.
An estimate from the bureau, based on hotels responding to a voluntary survey, put the number of tourists staying in the city a few percentage points lower than it was last year. However, the total number of hotel rooms in the city has expanded since then, Perry said.
The hotels participating in the survey peaked at 99 percent occupancy on Saturday night before dropping to 89 percent on Sunday and 86 percent on Lundi Gras. The rate dropped to 79 percent on Tuesday before plummeting to 41 percent on Ash Wednesday. Last year, the rate peaked at 100 percent on the Saturday before Mardi Gras and stayed at or above 88 percent through Tuesday.
“We always have a marginally lower occupancy rate” when Mardi Gras comes early in February and coincides with Super Bowl weekend, Perry said. “A lot of people make plans on Super Bowl weekend. It tends to be that we see it in a one or two or three points decrease in occupancy when we have the Super Bowl in another city.”
Perry said crowds appeared to him to be larger both at the parades in the Central Business District and during the Society of St. Anne’s Tuesday morning parade in Faubourg Marigny, though there are no official counts of those crowds.
An early Mardi Gras can boost tourism later in the year by giving New Orleans exposure while visitors are making their travel plans for the year, he said.
The number of departures from the airport over the past week beat previous years. For the eight-day period starting Feb. 5, about 142,000 people will have left the area through Louis Armstrong International Airport — with 18,000 leaving on Ash Wednesday — according to statistics released by City Hall. That’s a 2.3 percent increase over last year and a 40 percent increase over 2010.
The number of arrests associated with Carnival was down this year. Police arrested 334 people along parade routes and in the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter, Marigny and Central Business District, compared with 443 arrests last year. The number of calls to police from those districts dipped slightly, from 3,243 last year to 3,119 this year.
“Our intention is never to make a lot of arrests during Mardi Gras,” New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said. The lower number of arrests may have been a sign of well-behaved crowds and a highly visible police presence that extended outside the traditional patrol areas in the Quarter, he said.
Emergency Medical Services responded to about 2,300 emergency calls citywide for the 10-day period ending at 6 a.m. Wednesday, equal to about a call every six minutes. Last year, there were about 2,367 calls for medical service in that same period.
While crimes appeared to be down, tickets for parking violations spiked by almost 65 percent. Nearly 37,100 vehicles received parking tickets, 301 were booted and 541 were towed on parade days, which city officials estimate will bring in about $1.4 million to city coffers. Last year, about 22,500 vehicles were ticketed, 553 were booted and 799 were towed on parade days.
City officials also claimed improvement in the time it takes to restore the city’s streets to normal and clean the mounds of debris that parades leave in their wake. They said routes were cleaned within about two hours after each parade this year, compared with about three last year. They credited the decrease to new equipment purchased over the past year.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.