October 10 2011 | Latest NewsThursday, October 6, 2011 CityBusiness
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
New Orleans might seem like a natural tourist destination for the younger-than-30 crowd with its 24-hour party reputation, but the Big Easy is having a difficult time attracting the younger generation.
As baby boomers age and travel less, New Orleans tourism officials are shifting their marketing focus to Millenials, or people born after 1979. (CItyBusiness file photo)
In 2010, 8.3 million people visited the city and 67.6 percent were older than 35. Just shy of one quarter were between 18 and 34, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.
The baby boomer generation is the bread and butter of the New Orleans tourism industry, said Kim Priez, vice president of tourism with the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. But as that group grows older and travels less, tourism officials are also working to attract more people born after 1979, a group otherwise known as Millennials.
“If we’re going to reach our goal of 13.7 million visitors by 2018 as an industry, that’s where you would find a good amount of the growth in the traveler segment,” said Mark Romig, CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp. “We can’t ignore our base, which is the boomers, but we have to mine our opportunities with the younger demographic.”
New Orleans is not the only city having difficulties attracting younger visitors. In 2010, people between the ages of 21 and 29 accounted for just 10 percent of tourists in Las Vegas.
Priez believes that a lack of disposable income is behind the low numbers.
“When you were 21, how much money did you have to spend on a trip? I didn’t have $2,000 and if you did you went down to Cancun,” she said.
Y Partnership, a marketing firm based in Orlando, Fla., conducted a 2011 survey of Millennial travelers to gauge their interest in specific destinations. Hawaii landed at the top of the poll with 78 percent of respondents
New Orleans ranked 14th, however, with slightly more than half saying they were extremely interested in traveling here.
The younger generation might not have as much money to travel compared with Baby Boomers, but that doesn’t mean they stay at home, said Peter Yesawich, CEO of Y Partnership.
“They might have less money but they have a higher degree of interest in traveling and they’re more spontaneous so I don’t see that as an obstacle,” Yesawich said. “If they visit they likely won’t spend as much, but you can make that up in volume.”
Millennials tend to travel more impulsively and in shorter distances, Romig said. Instead of planning a year in advance to travel somewhere by airplane, they are more likely to jump in a car and drive to a nearby city for the weekend.
That’s why CVB and NOTMC are targeting the younger demographic through social media, touting the city’s nightlife and music festivals such as the Voodoo Music Experience and billing the city as the perfect weekend getaway.
But the younger generation is looking for more than just a party.
Millennials are the largest and most highly educated generation, and they like destinations that provide learning opportunities, are connected to a cause and are environmentally friendly, said Mike Konzen, a principal at PGAV Destinations, a St. Louis planning and design firm that conducted a travel survey this year titled, “Meet the Millennials.”
New Orleans can tap into those sentiments by promoting hurricane recovery work, something the city has done to some extent with its voluntourism initiatives, Priez said.
The CVB has formed a gay and lesbian task force to target younger portions of that group, Priez said. They are also working with tour operators who arrange trips for high school and college students looking to further their education in subjects such as music, history or the culinary arts.
“We have to get these 20-something year olds into the city so that they fall in love with New Orleans and come back six or seven times,” she said. “Most of our baby boomers came here when they were younger and fell in love with city so they continue to come back.”