What tourism initiatives do you have planned to increase tourism in North Louisiana beyond people coming here to gamble at the casinos?
Gary J. Beard
Norris "Spanky" Gros, Jr.
North Louisiana's natural resources are its greatest tourist attractions. Professional Bass fishing tournaments would be an ideal start for Lake Bisteneau, Lake Darbonne, Lake Claiborne, and Caney Lake. Although some tournaments are currently touring on these lakes, additional ones can be persuaded to "come see" what we have to offer. Shreveport has a large Bass Pro Shop, so this is a great start. Luring Cabellas and others to the area where hunting and fishing abound, will attract all sportsman alike. My personal favorite is the Motocross tracks, opening tracks like these and holding races for qualifying nationals and sectionals would introduce an entire new industry to north Louisiana.
Thomas D. Kates
The first thing I would do is begin an initiative to bring people to North Louisiana as the unknown jewel of the Sportsman's Paradise. I would focus on the lakes and natural diversity of North Louisiana and begin selling the message that this should be an outdoorsman's top destination for hunting and fishing.
There is also big money in tourism linked to movie production and filming. With so many films being produced here and Shreveport garnering the moniker Hollywood South, it's time to capitalize on this and make a tourist destination point that allows them to tour the sites that have been used for set locations.
I also want to target both Northeast and Northwest Louisiana as sites for new Louisiana music festivals, modeled after the famed Jamboree in the Hills that takes place every year in Ohio. We will identify two sites that can hold upwards of 100,000 people per day. These events would attract top name entertainment and bring millions of dollars into the surrounding communities.
These are just some of the plans I have for North Louisiana. I truly believe North Louisiana's has limitless potential for tourism development.
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.