Landrieu advocates master plan for tourism industry

January 27 2009 | Latest News
Landrieu advocates master plan for tourism industry
Posted by Stephanie Bruno January 27, 2009
Times Picayune

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu announced Monday that he plans to work with tourism leaders in greater New Orleans to craft a master plan for drawing business and pleasure travelers to Louisiana.

La. girds for tourism challenges
He and his staff met for more than two hours with leaders of the restaurant, hotel, convention and sports and other industries, who listened to presentations by industry experts and discussed how to position New Orleans for potentially lean years starting in 2010.

"We needed to all come together to have a frank discussion about what we can do to prepare, especially considering the fact that the state faces a $2 billion deficit," Landrieu said during a press conference after the meeting. "Making a master plan for the industry isn't new -- it was done in the '70s -- but we need to get started on it again to get ahead of the game. We had a banner year in 2008 and expect a strong year in 2009, but we need to start planning today for what is likely to occur down the road in 2010 and 2011."

The tourism industry is Louisiana's second largest, employing roughly 144,000 people around the state, according to Landrieu. He said it has been the engine of the state's economic growth, as well as a major force behind south Louisiana's physical recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

"Over the past few years, more than a million volunteers have come to the area to help rebuild homes and infrastructure," he said. "They stayed for days and weeks. Their 'voluntourism' has had a major economic impact."

Landrieu cited some of the 500 projects spearheaded by "voluntourists, " including the renovation of 600 houses and the construction or refurbishment of 50 playgrounds.

Janet Speyrer, associate dean for research at the College of Business Administration of the University of New Orleans, said convention bookings for 2009 are strong and cancellations have not been a factor.

"We have a lot of bookings -- up 10 percent over 2008 levels -- and groups are not canceling meetings, " Speyrer said. "But it is possible some of the meetings may be smaller than originally expected. No one knows when the recovery is coming. Even when it starts, it is likely that the emotional effect of the uncertainty could impact tourism."

A report she distributed to industry leaders and the press estimated that greater New Orleans would receive roughly 8.3 million visitors this year, down from 10.1 million in 2004. She expects those visitors to spend slightly more than they did in 2004, however.

Speyrer noted positive trends in addition to voluntourism, including the fact that population and jobs continue to increase locally, factors that can positively impact business travel. She also indicated that there has been a gradual recovery of the New Orleans "brand" in the minds of both leisure and business travelers as the physical recovery of the region continues.

Even the weakened national economy isn't necessarily all bad for New Orleans. The city has seen an increase in regional visitors who are wary of spending money on a more elaborate vacation. Because the local economy is not dependent on the financial and automotive industries, it has remained relatively vibrant and therefore attractive to visitors, Speyrer said.

Landrieu said he intends to work with industry leaders to push the Legislature for tourism marketing money to help Louisiana capitalize on these relatively favorable conditions.

"The equation is simple -- better marketing," he said during the news conference. "There is no industry that generates a better return on investment than the tourism industry does. If you want to grow the economy, this is one area where spending more makes sense."