Task force tackles tourism study

April 2 2009 | Latest News
Task force tackles tourism study
17-member group has 10-year vision
Thursday, April 02, 2009
By Jaquetta White
Business writer
Times Picayune

The newly created New Orleans Hospitality Strategic Task Force will spend at least $250,000 this year to study how best to grow the city's tourism industry in the next decade, panel members said Wednesday.

The 17-member group includes representatives from various hospitality-related entities, including the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Harrah's New Orleans Hotel and Casino and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center-New Orleans. Several local restaurateurs and hotel operators and the associations that represent them also are on the panel, which was created by Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to provide "one team that has one vision and one fight."

The task force's primary focus will to create a long-term plan for the hospitality industry. One goal would be to achieve measurable success by 2018, the city's 300th anniversary, said Doug Thornton, co-chairman of the task force and senior vice president of SMG, the company that operates the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena on behalf of the state.

Though the members of the hospitality industry have, since Katrina, worked more closely together to grow business, the downturn in the national economy has added a sense of urgency to their efforts, Thornton said.

"I think that what we're seeing right now is the national economy has impacted our industry and it has created a sense of nervousness," Thornton said. "Our job is to harness that energy."

Part of the plan will be determining just what success will look like. It could mean improving or repurposing existing infrastructure, developing new tourist attractions or reallocating money, Thornton said.

He likened the change the task force is shooting for to that which occurred in New Orleans as a result of the world's fair in 1984. The fair gave birth to the Convention Center's first phase and the Warehouse District's redevelopment, and by extension laid the foundation for a modern tourism and convention business in the city.

"This is how we create what the city is going to look like over the next 20 to 25 years," said task force member Stephen Perry, who also is the tourism bureau's president.

The task force plans to hire a consulting firm to frame its mission and recommend goals, said local developer Daryl Berger, co-chairman of the task force and principal and owner of The Berger Co. Inc..

That firm will conduct an analysis of the industry's strengths and weaknesses and evaluate where opportunities lie. That report will cost at least $250,000, Landrieu said. Landrieu's office will pay for half the cost, while members of the hospitality industry will raise money to pay for the balance. The report could be ready by the end of the year.

In addition to that long-term planning, the new panel will tackle some short-term hurdles for the tourism industry. The current economic downturn, for instance, has siphoned away visitor traffic and with it money that would be reinvested into advertising.

Landrieu said a goal of the task force will be to make a case to the Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal's office to fully finance the state's tourism marketing budget.

Crime is also an immediate concern, Landrieu said. He called it the No. 1 inhibitor of growing the tourism business in the state.

"It is a general consensus in the tourism industry that safety and security in the New Orleans area are one of the major hurdles we have to overcome," Landrieu said. "It's one that we have to deal with."