Posted on: January 30 2013"...reality is it also brings some intangibles that are often not thought of and those are the impression points you get in media..."
January 30, 2013
John Ellett, Contributor
Tourism in New Orleans has been booming for the past several years and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina is complete (from a tourism perspective). This week it will get to showcase that revitalization as the eyes of the world are on this year’s Super Bowl host city.
I recently had a discussion with Stephen Perry, CEO of New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to get the behind the scenes story of the city’s comeback.
“The best measure of a city’s hotel industry health is a combination of occupancy plus rate integrity. And we’ve led the country the last two years. We were 17% up year over year ’12 over ’11 and ’11 was a huge year for us” said Perry.
Hosting the Super Bowl will only make things better. According to Perry, “the Super Bowl in real dollars is projected to be worth about $432 million dollars and that is significant in and of itself. The reality is it also brings some intangibles that are often not thought of and those are the impression points you get in media. For months it’s been the road to New Orleans. There’s talk about it, whether it’s ESPN or CBS announcers asking each other, ‘where are you going to eat first when you get there,’ and those kind of things. But the actual television coverage as they go to commercials showing a paddle wheeler on the river, chefs cooking in the kitchen, street performers in Jackson Square or jazz trumpet players playing in the clubs, those kind of high def commercial spots on a broadcast that has over a billion households around the world, are something that we could not begin to buy.”
I was curious about how the New Orleans team orchestrated the tourism comeback. Perry shared that “in that first year the Number 1 thing that we wanted was credibility with the media. One of the things that we made a decision early on was that we were not going to try to spin, we were going to be truthful. So we began on that platform.”
At what point did Perry believe the city was on the road to recovery? “We had the opening home game in the third week of September 2006 where the Atlanta Falcons came in. It was the most watched regular season broadcast in NFL history. In that opening series Dave Gleason of the Saints blocked the punt and the Saints scored. And it was almost as if the city was reborn.”
With the help of federal disaster recovery funds, the New Orleans CVB embarked on an aggressive advertising campaign. “Once we were back open, we decided on an edgy, edgy brand campaign. There was focus on the fact that New Orleans is not a gentrified, artificial environment in the manner of a Vegas and Orlando. They’re opposite from us in terms of how they’re presented. And that grittiness of New Orleans and New Orleans culture was the thing that has the appeal to so many” commented Perry. “So when people saw that heart of the downtown was okay – the French Quarter, the Architecture, all of that – then we wanted to recognize the elephant in the room. A lot of people around the country thought we were still underwater. So we did one advertisement in particular that had a family standing in front of the giant gulf tank at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americans. And it showed the kids looking up and the mom and dad talking with them and the caption was – ‘Just for the record this is the only part of New Orleans that’s underwater.’ We even did a commercial about music with the tagline Soul is Waterproof.”
To get another perspective on the New Orleans recovery, I asked Perry’s counterpart at the Austin CVB, Bob Lander, what he thought about their efforts. “They’ve done a great job. They are a unique destination and they did well by getting their key tourist and convention areas back up and running after Katrina.” I also asked Lander about the impact of major sporting events on boosting a city’s tourism program. He agreed that big events are important and reflected on the recent Austin success as host of the US Grand Prix. “Formula One brought many visitors to Austin who had never been here before, especially affluent travelers from Mexico. It was a great showcase for our city.”
So this weekend as you watch the Super Bowl and root for your team to make a second half comeback, reflect on the comeback of the city of New Orleans and the role that their marketing team played. It is indeed a success worthy of a celebration.