Tourism has always been a big part of New Orleans. What ideas do you have for helping the city rebuild its tourism industry?
Tourism is our state's second largest industry, employing 126,000 Louisiana citizens.
Louisiana is the only place in America recovering from three major disasters. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 brought tourism to a grinding halt across the United States. The industry in Louisiana was recovering when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana. My team and I have worked hard to guide our tourism recovery.
In 2004, tourism generated $671 million in tax revenue, or 8.3% of the state's budget. While it is important for us to diversify our economy, rebuilding tourism statewide is key to Louisiana's economic success. Immediately after the hurricanes, I brought together national experts and tourism stakeholders from across the state to develop a strategic plan to guide the recovery of tourism and culture.
The Louisiana Rebirth Plan defined the following key results:
1. Rebuild Louisiana to worldwide preeminence as a top tourist destination.
2. Make Louisiana's Cultural Economy the engine of economic and social rebirth.
3. Build better lives and livelihoods than before for all Louisiana's people.
4. Make Louisiana's recovery the standard for high performance, accountability, and ethical behavior.
I testified before Congress and oversaw the development of a congressional appropriation request for the tourism industry and cultural economy. The request provided a unified and precise statement from these industries detailing their needs, priorities and a blueprint for success.
After extensive lobbying, my team and I secured $28.5 million in federal funding for the Tourism Recovery Program. Funded by federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, this money was distributed to local tourism entities in the thirteen parishes severely impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
To share Louisiana's story with the world, tourism officials from across the state and I unveiled a new advertising campaign in 2006 to bring tourists back to all regions of Louisiana and re-ignite the tourism industry. The "Fall in Love with Louisiana All Over Again," campaign focused on inviting visitors back to the state. Tim McGraw, Eli and Peyton Manning and other Louisiana celebrities donated their time and talent to this campaign that triggered a spike in regional intent to visit of 43% in 2006, compared to 37% in 2005. We shared this positive message with the world through the largest ad buy in state history.
My team and I knew that visitors would come back to Louisiana if we shared this positive message with them. In addition to $28.5 million in federal funding for tourism recovery, I also secured more than $5.5 million in additional funds to enhance our Come Fall in Love Again campaign. The campaign has focused on media relations, community relations and promotions that work to dispel misperceptions about Louisiana and encourage travel to the state. Cox Communications and ten other cable operators have cumulatively committed at least $12 million in donated advertising time on their networks nationwide.
In the New Orleans area, rebuilding the region's infrastructure is one of the most important steps we must take to help our tourism industry stand back up. I worked with the Office of the Governor to expedite the renovations of the New Orleans Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome through Executive Order. The monumental task of renovating the Superdome was completed on time and under budget. As a result, September 25, 2006, the facility hosted a Monday Night Football game between the New Orleans Louisiana Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. That game became a symbolic milestone in Louisiana's recovery. In addition to a successful Saints' season, the Dome played host to the Sugar Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl and the Bayou Classic. In 2008, New Orleans will host the BCS Football National Championship and the NBA All-Star Game.
The Morial Convention Center completed approximately $60 million in restoration work and several million more in renovation upgrades. The majority of the Convention Center reopened in June 2006 and the complete facility was open by early November. This set the stage for the state to host its first major convention post-Katrina and Rita.
With our major facilities open for business, I led the way to bring the ESSENCE Music Festival back home to New Orleans. The ESSENCE Music Festival is a critical component of Louisiana's tourism business - drawing well over 200,000 visitors during July, traditionally a slow traffic tourism month. ESSENCE has made New Orleans a top tourism destination for African-Americans and today Louisiana is the second mot popular African-American visitor destination. ESSENCE generates an estimated $100 million to $132 million economic impact producing $6 million in state and local taxes.
ESSENCE represents the culture that we are doing everything we can to keep alive in South Louisiana. After the storms, many questioned whether Louisiana could host Mardi Gras, but I believed we needed Mardi Gras symbolically and financially. Mardi Gras 2006 was a success. It reached 75% of its earning potential, an incredible feat given the challenges, and attracted 700,000 revelers. The event became a family reunion of sorts, reuniting families along parade routes throughout Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. Mardi Gras also became an important opportunity to use the national and international media to tell the ongoing story of Louisiana's recovery and rebuilding.
Major flooding and damage at the New Orleans Fair Grounds left organizers unsure if they could pull off another major cultural event, Jazz Fest, post-Katrina. My team and I stepped up as a major sponsor of the event and we were determined to make it a success. In 2006, Jazz Fest drew between 300,000 and 350,000 visitors, who made an estimated $250 million impact on the local economy.
I am also continuing to work with our legislators and encouraging them to support our tourism recovery efforts. During the most recent Session, I passed legislation (HB 270) to lift the cap on funding for tourism promotion, to re-invest tourism-generated revenues into the most efficient means of bringing visitors back to Louisiana. Projected collections for FY 2007-08 are $25.5 million. The cap for 2007-08 is $18.7 million. If the cap is lifted, the difference of $6.8 million will go towards marketing the state to potential visitors.
Answer this question as if it were asked by someone outside the state: Why should I spend my tourism dollars in Louisiana?
I always tell potential visitors that this is a great time to visit Louisiana. Our state is one of the most authentic destinations in the world. We offer food, music, art and culture that aren't found anywhere else. In Louisiana, you are able to share a unique experience and receive unmatched hospitality at an exceptional value.
I also encourage people around the world to take an active role in our recovery by visiting our state. During our recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I believe that people around the nation not only want to help us, but genuinely sense an obligation to come to Louisiana and support our shops, hotels, restaurants, small businesses and other attractions that depend on tourism dollars.
What tourism initiatives do you have planned to increase tourism in North Louisiana beyond people coming here to gamble at the casinos?
From great food and music to a vibrant arts scene and incredible sites for outdoor recreation, North Louisiana offers the very things that make our state unique. We are working hard to highlight the authentic experiences offered in North Louisiana and are attracting increasing numbers of visitors to this region.
North Louisiana is a critical piece of tourism, our state's second largest industry. In the Shreveport region alone, the industry makes a $480 million economic impact, employs nearly 5,000 people and generates payroll of $101 million and $33 million in combined state and local taxes. We are doing everything we can to grow this industry in North Louisiana and throughout our state.
As Lieutenant Governor, I've placed a new focus on cultural tourism in bringing new energy to arts and culture communities across this region. We are providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to support programming and marketing for arts and cultural events. I created the World Cultural Economic Forum (WCEF) to showcase the architecture, art, music, crafts, food and other great cultural assets. In August, communities in North Louisiana sponsored Cultural Passport Events to attract visitors and produce special events for local citizens. Our efforts to sustain Louisiana's cultural community include providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to support programming and marketing for arts and cultural events, including $250,000 in the Shreveport region.
Fairs and festivals are important celebrations of our culture in Louisiana. We've worked hard to increase attendance at our fairs and festivals statewide. We've sponsored the Christmas Festival in Natchitoches, the Red River Revel Arts Festival and others because they draw great crowds and make a significant economic impact.
Our staff is committed to improving our state attractions. I am very proud that we have improved the customer service at our state parks, welcome centers, museums and historic sites. Today, we offer a much improved visitor experience that includes wireless Internet access, educational resources, and cultural flavor in our parks and welcome centers. We also opened our state parks for special events and weddings for the first time.
I'm happy to report that last year, our state parks attracted more than 2.1 million visitors who spent $41 million. Lake Bistineau State Park in Webster Parish experienced a 22 percent visitor increase from last fiscal year. Lake Claiborne State Park in Claiborne hosted nearly 80,000 visitors last year and Mansfield State Historic Site in DeSoto Parish saw a four percent increase in visitation. Building on our improvements, we are currently working to sell fishing and hunting licenses at our recreational sites at no extra charge to visitors, and launching pilot programs that allow pets to stay in certain cabins and extended stays for guests.
Our successful film industry is putting North Louisiana on a global stage and drawing visitors to this region. We know that this industry is creating jobs and businesses, but it also enables us to market Louisiana to a global audience.
I worked with local leaders to secure state funds for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum that will be built in Natchitoches and I continue to support efforts to develop convention facilities and public areas like the riverfront in Shreveport. Our team secured more than half a million dollars for the Sci-Port Discovery Center in Shreveport and continues to fund other attractions and events, including the Independence Bowl and the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum. We are moving forward with an innovative plan to make Louisiana an ecotourism destination through the Caddo Lake Project and provided $75,000 to help improve scenic byways in the Shreveport area.
We invested in Main Street communities in rural Louisiana to bring tourists and businesses back to downtown areas. This program has created hundreds of new businesses and more than 1,800 new jobs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently recognized Natchitoches as a "Distinctive Dozen" tourist attraction.
Louisiana's Audubon Golf Trail is a proven success in attracting visitors to North Louisiana. We recently designated Old Oaks, a Hal Sutton signature golf course, as the premier golf facility in Northwest Louisiana and expect this course to do extremely well.
To attract older visitors, my office launched its Certified Retirement Community initiative. We are working with local communities to develop new ways to draw retirees and encourage them to live in Louisiana.
Of course, one of the most basic things we are doing at the state level is providing funds for advertising and marketing efforts by local communities so that we can land major events and attract leisure travelers.
The current office holder has used his office as a strong proponent of Social Entrepreneurism. Will the effort continue with you as Lt Governor, will it increase or will it decline?
In 1993, the Louisiana Serve Commission was established in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to rekindle the spirit of service and citizenship among Louisianans. I am proud of the work I have done as Lieutenant Governor to promote service in Louisiana.
I will continue the state's new focus on social entrepreneurship and I am strongly committed to bringing people together to build stronger communities. I launched the Year of Service earlier this year and more than 500,000 people have volunteered in hurricane recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast to date
Throughout this Year of Service, the Louisiana Serve Commission and the Office of Social Entrepreneurship are hosting a series of educational seminars across the state entitled, Changing Louisiana: Through Volunteerism and Social Entrepreneurship. Our goal is to create sustainable projects that make a difference in the lives of Louisianans. Hundreds of citizens are participating in these seminars across the state. We recently hosted a successful Changing Louisiana seminar in Shreveport.
I've also been promoting Voluntourism, the practice of adding a meaningful service component to a vacation. Voluntourism is a growing niche market for our tourism industry and a recent survey conducted by the Travel Industry Association showed that 24% of travelers were interested in taking such a vacation.
As Lieutenant Governor, I oversee the Louisiana Serve Commission which is working to build and sustain high quality programs that meet the needs of our people and promote service. Americorps Louisiana , is part of the Louisiana Serve Commission and falls under my jurisdiction. The Louisiana Serve Commission launched Louisiana's first statewide online volunteer portal to connect in-state and out-of-state volunteers with service opportunities across Louisiana. The Web site has helped more than 10,000 volunteers find an opportunity to serve with one of the more than 250 registered volunteer organizations.
Answers to the rest of our questions are pending.
5. Because you will be one heart-beat away from the Governor's Mansion, it would be nice to know your answers to some of the questions we posed to the candidates for Governor.