Tulane Economics Professor Studies the Fiscal Benefit of Mardi Gras

Toni Weiss

With Carnival season now in full swing, Mardi Gras fervor permeates almost every aspect of life in New Orleans. Beyond its famous revelry and deep cultural significance, a recent study by Economics Professor of Practice Toni Weiss presents the profound economic impact Mardi Gras has on the city.

Examining both the direct and indirect economics of the 2023 Mardi Gras season, Weiss discovered that it generated nearly $900 million in total fiscal benefit for the city. In fact, Mardi Gras accounted for over 3% of the total Gross Domestic Production (GDP) of Orleans Parish in 2023.

“This economic activity in turn supports tens of thousands of jobs, our creative and cultural workers and economy, and thousands of small businesses, with those dollars turning over countless times throughout our community,” said Elroy James of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and James Reiss III of the Rex Organization, Co-Chairs of the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council, in a joint statement. The Mayor’s Advisory Council, along with New Orleans & Company, commissioned Weiss’s report.

Mardi Gras krewes work year-round creating costumes, throws, and floats, holding balls and events, and otherwise preparing (and spending) for the 38 parades held within Orleans Parish. On its part, the City of New Orleans invests money into the significant public services, safety, and sanitation required to stage Mardi Gras. Weiss’s study shows that for every $1.00 the City of New Orleans spent on Mardi Gras in 2023, there was a $2.64 return.

“It’s fun and it’s part of our culture, but it also just economically makes sense,” Weiss said, in a Fox 8 Live interview.

As part of her comprehensive research, Weiss surveyed and interviewed parade attendees—both tourists and locals—gathering data on Carnival spending for commodities like lodging, events, food, and drink. Krewes reported their total annual costs to Weiss, while local businesses outlined revenue patterns during the Carnival season as compared to the rest of the year.

Beyond the specific spending and revenue during Carnival season, Weiss's study comments on the "economic dynamism" fueled by the deep cultural association of Mardi Gras as central to New Orleans' identity. The celebration's impact is not limited to the season, as it draws visitors to the city throughout the year: tourists who don beads and purchase Mardi Gras apparel, take place in “mini” Mardi Gras celebrations and parades, and tour facilities like Mardi Gras World. It also inspires Mardi Gras-themed events around the country.

“My strong sense is that the actual impacts of this internationally renowned celebration are even greater than can be accurately measured,” Weiss says.

The 2023 report marks Weiss’s fourth study of this nature, with the first conducted in 2009. Accounting for updates in methodology, increase in size and length of parades, inflation, and other changes since the last study in 2014, Weiss sees this study as an accurate “post-COVID benchmark” for which to compare further studies.

“Thanks to the help of Carnival, city and business leaders throughout New Orleans, and the participation by krewes and their members, this is the best-informed and most accurate study of Mardi Gras I have been involved with to date,” says Weiss. Her work reinforces the School of Liberal Arts’ commitment to in-depth research and community engagement, bringing together Tulane scholars and community leaders to explore the great scope of creativity and hard work that contributes to the Carnival spectacle.

“The mere idea of a New Orleans devoid of Mardi Gras feels almost inconceivable,” Weiss notes. “Rarely do we witness such events that are so profoundly integrated into the essence of a place, shaping its unique character and fostering an unparalleled sense of unity among its residents.”