For decades, New Orleans had earned a reputation as one of the most popular convention and leisure destinations in the country.
From Paul Prudhomme to Emeril Lagasse to John Besh, our culinary innovators have incessantly created dishes that entertain the palate. From Louis Armstrong to Trombone Shorty, we remain a hub that breeds and attracts musical IQ. And from Mardi Gras to Jazz Fest to the Voodoo Experience, unique attractions are born and raised in the Big Easy.
After all, there is only one New Orleans—a city where music, commerce, cuisine, culture and quality of life work in unison to create an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.
On August 29, 2005, that experience—the heart of the city—was brought to its knees. As the city lost billions of dollars in tourism business, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau embarked on a mission to overcome unprecedented brand impairment. Today, the tourism industry stands taller, stronger than before.
Some positive indicators:
- The visitor experience today is better than it was prior to Katrina with 300 more restaurants than 2005, new cultural attractions, $400 million in improvements to local hotels, $250 million in improvements to the Louisiana Superdome and $92.7 million in improvements to the Morial Convention Center.
- Cultural festivals are drawing record-breaking attendance and the city continues to host and confirm future conventions, meetings, special events, and high-profile sporting events such as Super Bowl 2013.
- The city has won numerous awards such as Travel & Leisure’s America’s Favorite City for dining and live music in 2007 and 2008 and TripAdvisor® Travelers’ Choice Award for Best Destination in the U.S. and World for nightlife in 2010.
- The number of annual visitors increased from 3.7 million in 2006 to 7.5 million in 2009. In fact, from January through May 2010, New Orleans was the number one destination in the country for REVPAR growth, a hotel industry measure of success.
Despite Hurricane Katrina and a national recession, New Orleans is once again welcomingmillions of visitors per year, hosting prominent corporate and association meetings, and earning awards as one of the hottest leisure destinations in America.
However, as we stand in the midst of the continued impact of the BP oil spill, it is clear that complex challenges remain ahead: misperceptions, miscommunication, and potential long-term brand impact pose a threat to the progress made since 2005.
But, as with Hurricane Katrina, it is not the tragedy that will define us, but how we deal with it. We’ll continue to re-establish our identity in the preservation of our unique culture, by becoming a model for urban redevelopment, reinvention of education and ongoing diversification of our economy.
Following a strategic unified master planfor the tourism industry, developed earlier this year, we have an opportunity to attract 13.7 million annual visitors by the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018—an unprecedented feat.
Via enhanced visitor experience, improved infrastructure, and synergies in destination branding, the tourism industry will generate billions in direct spending, thousands of additional jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue.
For New Orleans, our future remains bright. A rejuvenated tourism industry, a dynamic new mayor, an influx of young entrepreneurs coming to invest here, stronger criminal justice, education and healthcare systems, neighborhood redevelopment inspired by engaged citizens and a new attitude of victory that has infused the community since the Saints Super Bowl championship work as integral components to fuel our continued success.
Energy. Determination. Resilience. Progress.
Stephen Perry is President and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is the driving catalyst for New Orleans’ largest industry—tourism—strategically leading national and international marketing, public relations and visitor services efforts that attract millions of visitors, events, conventions and festivals.
Perry is also Chairman of the Board of Destination Marketing Association International, Executive Committee Member of the US Travel Association and Member of the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board which advises the US Secretary of Commerce.