Tourism Booms in the Big Easy

written by | Posted on April 3rd, 2013

New Orleans. (Photo by Richard Nowitz/courtesy of the New Orleans CVB)

New Orleans.
(Photo by Richard Nowitz/courtesy of the New Orleans CVB)

After going through a devastating hurricane and an oil spill in the Gulf, New Orleans had a record year in 2012 proving that the Big Easy continues to attract travelers despite its recent setbacks.

“Tourism does not just happen—it’s the result of carefully plotted brand and public relations strategies, particularly during a crisis such as the BP oil spill,” says Kelly Schulz, v.p. of communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “During Katrina and BP, PR played a significant role in the recovery of New Orleans’ perception-driven $5 billion tourism industry, which employs 70,000 people and drives Louisiana’s economy.”

With the help of a $5 billion marketing plan funded by BP, from July 1 to August 31, 2010, the New Orleans CVB sent out a message to “combat misperceptions about the safety of Gulf seafood and the viability of New Orleans as a destination,” Schulz says.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005, the city also started a campaign to boost consumer confidence and prove that New Orleans was getting back on its feet. Kim Priez, v.p. of tourism at the CVB, says they saw a big dip in visitor confidence immediately following the hurricane. Instead of creating a campaign targeting the leisure market, they turned to travel agents, bringing over 20,000 agents to the city in 2005 and 2006.

Agents saw for themselves that the city was recovering and helped spread the word that travelers should visit New Orleans. After the oil spill when the major cruise lines returned, as well as conventions, it was a “huge message to agents and visitors that big corporations thought they were ready to return to the city,” Priez says.

“When you go through what a city like New Orleans has gone through, it proves that travel agents and tour operators have a tremendous amount of power,” she adds.

Thanks to these marketing efforts and the city’s hospitality industry, New Orleans received 9.01 million visitors in 2012, the highest number in almost 10 years. Priez says they generally hit the 8 million mark, but now hope to hit 10 million in the next two years.

This year has also put the city in the international spotlight, hosting the Super Bowl XLVII in February for the first time since 2002, taking place around the same time as Mardi Gras. Meanwhile, The National World War II Museum opened its $35 million US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center in January, which showcases six airplanes used during the war.

The center currently features two exhibits: Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame—a collection of football artifacts dating to the late 19th century—which runs through May 5; and Guests of the Third Reich which focuses on American prisoners of war, on display through July 7. For more information, visit nationalww2museum.org.

For clients heading to the area, the 86-room boutique St. James Hotel is offering rates at $109 per night through July 31. The hotel recently became part of the Ascend Hotel Collection from Choice Hotels International. Located in the downtown business district near the French Quarter, the hotel is inside the Banks Arcade, once the center of the Caribbean sugar and coffee trade. This history is showcased with West Indies-influenced decor in the guestrooms and suites. Guestrooms also offer rooftop terraces with deluxe rooms featuring balconies with panoramic city views. For more information, click here.

In addition, the CVB hosts its FAM program Back to the Big Easy throughout the summer for agents and their families. Rates start at $49 per night giving agents a choice of hotels. For more information on New Orleans, visit neworleanscvb.com.