GALVESTON — If you thought Mardi Gras received a little more attention than usual this year, it wasn’t your imagination.
Officials from the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau said it helped attract more media coverage than ever this year, resulting in $3.5 million of “PR value” to the island.
Leah Cast, the bureau’s public relations manager, said the value is reflected in the amount of news coverage (unpaid advertising) the island received during the Mardi Gras event.
The bureau helped TV news stations produce 79 spots during the two-week event and two dozen more radio and newspaper stories that were seen as beneficial to the promotion of Mardi Gras.
“It was a huge year for us in terms of support from the media and exposure,” Cast said. ““This was the first year, since I’ve been here, that every single TV and radio station was on this island for the first weekend to cover Mardi Gras.”
Before this year’s event, organizers said they wanted to put an increased focus on the first weekend.
“We attribute the increase in the first weekend sales to our continued efforts to equalize the two weekends,” said Mike Dean, president of Yaga’s Entertainment, the promoter of Mardi Gras. “Rerouting the parades was a huge hit with the consumer, and it showed at the gate and in the hotel rooms.”
Dean declined to provide exact ticket sales for the event, but other indicators pointed to increased attendance this year.
According to the visitors bureau, 238,031 vehicles crossed the causeway during the two weekends of Mardi Gras — that’s 34,679 more vehicles than 2013, a 17 percent increase.
Additionally, hotels reported a 1.6 percent increase in hotel occupancy this year and a 13.2 percent increase in hotel revenue. Officials attributed the increase to higher inventory of hotel rooms compared to last year.
Before the event, the city estimated it would spend $306,167 on direct Mardi Gras costs. More than 40 percent of those expenses, $135,443, came from police department spending.
The city’s private promoters, Yaga’s Entertainment, pays the city a $100,000 fee to help offset the city’s cost.
City officials said a loss on Mardi Gras is expected, but they argue the actual cost of the event is defrayed by the amount of business produced for local establishments, as well as the revenue produced by hotel stays and alcohol sales.
The final expenses and tax revenues will not be officially reported for months, one city official said.
At a glance
Mardi Gras 2014 compared to last year
Causeway crossings: 238,031 vehicles, an increase of 34, 679 vehicles
Hotel occupancy: increase of 1.6 percent
Hotel revenue: increase of 13.2 percent
Media “PR value”: $3.5 million
SOURCE: Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau