NEW ORLEANS, LA – According to the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, hotel room bookings are ahead of pace for the 2009 Mardi Gras season. Mavis Early, executive director of the organization, stated, “It definitely looks like this will be the most successful Mardi Gras since 2004.” The average estimated attendance for Mardi Gras ( prior to 2006 was around one million.

Part of the American experience since the early 1700’s, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is February 24 this year. According to a study done by the University of New Orleans, the celebration generates an estimated US$840 million annually. Figures from last year show that 750,000-850,000 people attended Mardi Gras. And none of the figures include the over one-million, day-trippers or local spending.

Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau pointed out that Mardi Gras is not just about fun for New Orleans; it is an important business that generates revenue and keeps people employed, not always an easy feat in these difficult economic times. Romig stated, “Our hotels rely on this event, as do restaurants, clubs, and ‘mom and pop’ businesses throughout the city. Hence, the impact of Carnival is vital to our city’s economic vitality, as well as our cultural vitality.”

Parades begin February 7, famous for extravagant floats and outrageously-costumed characters tossing the popular green, purple, and gold beads. Most visitors will start arriving Friday, February 20, with hotels helping the party spirit by offering special Mardi Gras packages. The super parades of Endymion and Bacchus, scheduled for the Saturday and Sunday before Fat Tuesday, feature a combined total of 75 floats, 60 marching bands, and over 250 units. Their 2,300 members toss more than 1.5 million cups, 2.5 million doubloons, and 200,000 gross of the famous beads.

Historically big on hospitality, the Big Easy has an abundance of events, activities, and attractions to keep visitors busy during their stay in the city. The epicenter of activity will be the world-famous French Quarter with Cajun eateries, period architecture, museums, and boutiques. Special events include the Big Easy Blues Festival on February 14 at the New Orleans Arena. A full calendar of events throughout the area, along with information about hotels, restaurants, attractions, and all-things-Mardi-Gras, is available at the website: .