Tourism has always been a big part of New Orleans. What ideas do you have for helping the city rebuild its tourism industry?
Norris "Spanky" Gros, Jr.
Tourism is a major industry for our state and New Orleans has always drawn crowds from other states. Our history, our culture, and even our color politics attract and lure tourist here. The first step in rebuilding the city is to clean up the crime using the most drastic means necessary. Tourist will not come to an unsafe place and now New Orleans is not safe for tourist, families and the general public. Once we have gained control of New Orleans back, the cities natural attractions should be "cleaned up" and "polished" and advertised like a rebirth, a rebirth of a historical city with a colorful past and an exciting future. The Audubon Zoo, the river boats, the Aquarium, the Superdome and the Saints are all part of the New Orleans that attract and capture the attention of the United States.
Let me start by saying that the tourism of New Orleans wasn't the only area damaged by hurricanes. Rita was equally devastating to Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermilion Parishes. The answer to this is quite clear, we have to introduce the rest of the state to the country and the world. The city of New Orleans is important to the state and must be rebuilt, but there is the rest of the state to be sold while reconstruction continues in the Southeast. We have something unique to offer in every section of the state, but people inside the state don't know about these treasures, much less people outside the state. We need to give people a reason to visit Louisiana, not just New Orleans. We need people to feel that there is more to see and do here. They will come to see New Orleans, but also venture to other parts of the state.
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.