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Itinerary for tourism grant still in flux

Posted on: November 8 2010 | Posted in: Key Issues
BP has earmarked $6 million to support New Orleans tourism
Sunday, November 07, 2010

Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune

The $6 million grant BP will provide for New Orleans tourism will be divided equally over three years, the head of the city's visitors board said, but officials have not determined how the money will be spent and when it will be allocated.

Anna Dearmon, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle, said details such as how the money will need to be spent have not yet been determined. The lieutenant governor's office oversees tourism for the state.

Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau said he plans to meet with the Louisiana Office of Tourism in the coming weeks to propose ways to spend the money. So far, however, Perry said he is disappointed with the sum earmarked for the local tourism industry.

"That's a very small amount," Perry said. "We're a little concerned at the breakdown right now, because it doesn't drive the highest (return on investment) in job creation.

It is still unclear when the money will be available, Perry said. That matter is complicated because the state this week elected a new lieutenant governor who may or may not have a hand in overseeing its distribution, Perry said.

Perry said he is hopeful that there will be some change in the allocation that could see more money go toward the effort to promote New Orleans tourism.

"None of us really got a briefing in advance," Perry said. "There's a hope on our part that we're going to be able to partner with the seafood board to brand seafood and at the same time drive business to New Orleans."

The visitors bureau is likely to use the money to launch a marketing campaign similar to the one it issued using BP funds over the summer. The grant announced Tuesday, however, is a fraction of that amount. The current grant gives New Orleans $2 million a year for three years.

The visitors bureau received $5 million from the Louisiana Office of Tourism in May, a portion of a $15 million tourism grant the state received from BP to protect the industry following the company's oil spill. The bureau used the money to advertise travel to New Orleans during the typically slow summer months.

Revenue per available room, a measure of hotel profitability, was up 13 percent in July, 14 percent in August and 16 percent in September compared with the same months a year ago, according to Smith Travel Research. Perry attributes the year over year improvement to the advertising and marketing campaign. The growth also coincided with an influx of hotel stays from people who were working on spill response.

"It has been absolutely spectacular," Perry said. "It's kind of amazing what happened because, at a very difficult time for us normally and with the devastation of the oil spill, we were able to turn around the summer."