Lafayette is prepared to welcome economic-boosting tourists with open arms as Mardi Gras festivities kick off this weekend, but locals also are being encouraged during a time of a plummeting oil market to come out and support the local economy.
Benjamin Berthelot, the president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, said it takes a combination of locals and out-of-town guests to make Mardi Gras successful.
“Just because you’re from Lafayette doesn’t mean you’re not spending money here,” he said. “You’re eating in restaurants and spending money at the parade routes, so it’s really important not only that we attract visitors but that our locals support our Mardi Gras as well.”
Still, Berthelot said, tourism is a vital economic driver.
“I think it’s even more important, during times that we are experiencing now, with the downturn in the oil economy, that tourism helps offset some of that,” he said. “For our hoteliers, it’s very, very important that we attract visitors, but, fortunately, we have a very family-friendly Mardi Gras and the second largest in the state, so our economy has benefited from that for many, many years.”
For the past two years, weather conditions have prevented large turnouts to the parades, according to Berthelot and Robert Foard, the president of the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association.
They are hopeful this year’s turnouts will be better.
“We’re due for a good year,” Foard said. “Monday and Tuesday night parades have been pretty bad the past couple of years, but we’re absolutely hopeful that we’ll have fantastic weather; we deserve it. The parades ride even in the rain, as long as it’s not dangerous weather.”
Mardi Gras weekend begins with the Kick Off Parade at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5.
The Children’s Parade rolls at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 6, followed by the Krewe of Bonaparte Parade at 6:30 p.m.
Queen Evangeline’s Parade rolls at 6 p.m. Monday.
On Mardi Gas Day, King Gabriel’s Parade begins at 10 a.m., followed by the Lafayette Mardi Gras Festival Parade at 1 p.m. and the The Independent Parade at 2 p.m.
Foard encourages paradegoers to visit www.gomardigras.com and download the Lafayette Mardi Gras app to get a schedule of the parades and a tracking device for those wanting to know the whereabouts of each parade.
“One of the great things about our area is that we have a great, original Mardi Gras experience,” Berthelot said. “Also, a great thing about our area is that in 20 minutes, you can be in the outlying parts of Acadiana and participate in things like the Courir de Mardi Gras. It’s really a wonderful balance of traditional Mardi Gras with a totally different unique experience.”
In addition to the parades, Mardi Gras festivals will be taking place around the Lafayette area, featuring local bands and musicians, such as Wayne Toups, Glen Templeton and Lafayette’s own “American Idol” contestant MacKenzie Bourg.