Carnival = cash

mardi_gras.gi.top.jpgBy Sonya Stinson, contributing writer


NEW ORLEANS (CNNMoney.com) -- New Orleans' Mardi Gras is often called the "world's largest free party," but for the people who build the parade floats, make the costumes, serve the refreshments and put up the out-of-town guests, it's big business.

Carnival means cash for companies like Haydel's Bakery, which sells about 50,000 king cakes during the festivities, and Giacona Container Company, which makes the souvenir cups that are tossed from parade floats.

Where partying is big business
From masks to king cakes to beads, fueling Mardi Gras' revelry is a multi-million dollar business for these New Orleans companies.

Mardi Gras is "almost recession proof," says Barry Kern, president and CEO of Blaine Kern Studios, which designs and builds floats for all of the major Carnival krewes.

But Kern's year-round business, which includes tours and corporate events, has definitely felt the pinch. "It was almost like a spigot got turned off," he says of the past year. "A lot of that corporate business disappeared. We're seeing an uptick now, and I see some light, particularly within the last several months."

A pair of Tulane University professors recently set out to calculate the direct economic impact of Mardi Gras, the 12-day parade period that concludes this year with Fat Tuesday, on Feb. 16. Their tally: $147.7 million.

That includes more than $23 million spent by Carnival krewes, a $26 million jump in sales of alcoholic beverages, $2.2 million in extra spending on groceries and just over $1 million in additional jewelry sales -- after all, krewes have to buy gifts for their royal courts. Special holiday publications, tours and hotel bookings were also included, though restaurants and street vendors were not.

"We were not able to gather all of the data this year that we would have liked, so we're hoping to have a greater degree of participation next year," says Tulane economics professor Toni Weiss, who co-authored the study with Paul Spindt, from the university's business department.

At the French Quarter's legendary Galatoire's Restaurant, chief operating officer Melvin Rodrigue says that although his total 2009 sales were down 5%, business thrived through Mardi Gras. Like Kern, he sees signs of recovery in the local hospitality industry.

"Corporate meetings were nearly non-existent last year, but they are starting to come back," Rodrigue says.

Massoud Dalili, artist and owner of The Mask Gallery, is still reeling from the triple whammy that wiped out tourist traffic to his French Quarter studio.

"We had Katrina hit us first," says Dalili, who handmakes leather and feather masks worn throughout the Carnival season. "Then the gas prices went up and people quit traveling to try save money. Then the housing [downturn] was another blow."

Dalili adjusted by lowering his prices to rock bottom, negotiating with suppliers for price breaks on his raw materials and diversifying his inventory. Sales were off 40% in 2006 -- the year after Katrina hit -- but he says they started to pick up again last year.

New Orleans is becoming a year-round festival destination, and the local hospitality industry hopes some of its newest creations will help make up for lost corporate and convention bookings.

But more visitors doesn't automatically translate into more business revenue. One of the city's fastest-growing special events, the annual French Quarter Festival music celebration held in April, saw its economic impact decrease from 2008 to 2009, even though attendance was up significantly.

"People want to get out, and they want to enjoy themselves even through this very difficult downturn in the economy," says John Williams, director of the University of New Orleans's Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration. "But we do see a change in their spending habits." To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.19%4.26%
15 yr fixed3.23%3.27%
5/1 ARM3.34%3.45%
30 yr refi4.17%4.23%
15 yr refi3.21%3.25%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:

Sections

Herbalife shares tumble after the maker of nutritional supplements reports earnings that fall short of analysts' estimates. More

New annual report from U.S. government shows the long-term prognosis for Medicare has improved thanks to slower health spending, while the outlook for Social Security remains unchanged. More

Online dating site OkCupid found its users were more likely to have conversations when it told them they were more compatible than in reality. More

Actor-founded This Bar Saves Lives had Hollywood connections, but learned Start-Up 101 the hard way. More

Steve Mason, a pastor from California, inherited more than $100,000 in student loan debt when his 27-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009. With interest and late penalties, the debt has since ballooned to $200,000. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.