Today marks the last day of this year’s Carnival celebrations, the festivals and events that begin on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany. Or, put simply, it’s Mardi Gras!
If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the cities that celebrates with parades, balls and all manner of revelry - well, chances are you aren’t reading this today. Hopefully you’re out feasting on the sights and sounds of one of the most exciting days of the year. Some of the most dazzlingly elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations take place in places like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Port of Spain, Mazatlan, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. However, here in the US, the most famous Mardi Gras celebration by far takes place in New Orleans, thanks to the cities French roots (Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday).
In fact, the tradition of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans goes back as far as 1837. And despite the tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city over a decade ago, today the joyful exuberance of Mardi Gras continues to bring billions to New Orleans.
In 2004, the year before Katrina, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that a record 10.1 million people visited New Orleans, and spent more than $4.9 billion on entertainment, lodging and local attractions. But for some time, there was a legitimate worry that Katrina would destroy Louisiana tourism entirely - a concern that was made clear at Mardi Gras in 2006, which brought in about 700,000 tourists, compared to the average 1.4 million revelers the festival usually brings to the city.
Mardi Gras Leads New Orleans’ Resurgence
That year also marked the first time in the city’s history that New Orleans’ Mardi Gras accepted corporate sponsorship, since much of the city was in ruins and their treasury was entirely empty. Appropriately enough, trash-bag maker Glad Products was the first to step in, offering an unspecified six-figure donation, and a no doubt much-appreciated gift of 100,000 trash bags.
Though many questioned the wisdom of a bankrupt and devastated city holding such a famously massive festival of revelry, today it seems to have been exceptionally wise. Tourism has essentially rebounded to pre-Katrina levels, with more than 9.5 million visitors traveling to New Orleans, injecting $6.8 billion into the local economy in 2014. And Mardi Gras in particular has proved to be an incredibly lucrative event for the city. While The City of New Orleans spends $3.33 million on Mardi Gras annually, the city generally sees a handsome return of $4.48 for every dollar spent. Fat Tuesday, indeed.
So, if you do happen to be in New Orleans today - first of all, get off the computer and out of the house for god sake - and second, you can take comfort knowing that all your debaucherous revelry helping to boost the New Orleans economy. Happy Mardi Gras!
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