Tourism officials delare victory

February 18 2013 | Latest News
"A poll of hotels in the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association before the Super Bowl showed occupancy rates above 99 percent."

February 15, 2013

By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

Tourism industry promoters in New Orleans are describing the just-finished marathon of Super Bowl and Mardi Gras festivities as a success equal to an extended, super-sized Mardi Gras. Economic studies of the football championship extravaganza and full data on Mardi Gras 2013 are not yet available, but tourism officials pointed to encouraging evidence.

A poll of hotels in the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association before the Super Bowl showed occupancy rates above 99 percent. On the Saturday before Mardi Gras, the week after the Super Bowl, a survey of hotels belonging to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau showed the brisk business continuing with 97 percent occupancy.

"The Super Bowl extended the whole Carnival season," said Kelly Schulz, convention bureau spokeswoman. "I think it was really good for business."

And attention from the Super Bowl seemed to echo into Mardi Gras, Schulz said. Schulz and CVB President Stephen Perry did television interviews from their building on St. Charles Avenue as parade floats passed on Tuesday. They appeared on 34 stations nationwide, about double the number of past satellite media "tours" they've conducted, reaching an estimated 3.2 million people in 32 cities, which she attributed to lingering Super Bowl interest and the live timing on the culminating day of carnival.

The New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee projected a $211 million spending boost from hosting the National Football League spectacle and $434 million in overall economic activity. A Tulane University study in 2011 concluded Mardi Gras creates a $144 million direct infusion and about a $301 million overall benefit, including ripple effect spending.

But Schulz, along with Super Bowl organizers and other tourism leaders, argued that the publicity from the game, which was full of praise for New Orleans with the exception of the 34-minute power outage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, has immeasurable value.

"It's an industry that's based very much on image and perception and how people feel about the destination," Schulz said about tourism. "We could never create the marketing campaign that would reach that far."

Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, said the threat of rain on several days of Carnival, which mostly failed to materialize into storms during the height of the celebrations, seemed to lower crowds for some parades but create pent-up demand that fueled a particularly vibrant Tuesday.

"When Tuesday turned out to have this great window," of workable weather, he said, "I think people poured out into the streets."

Romig said he has also heard strong results from hotels.

Crowd counts for Mardi Gras, including its earlier weekends, often come in around 1 million people, Romig said, though he hasn't yet seen estimates for this year. Super Bowl visitor numbers were projected between 100,000 and 150,000.

Some indicators, such as attendance estimates of 150,000 at the Super Bowl-affiliated music festival at Woldenberg Park, a number that includes New Orleans residents, suggest turnout for game week might have reached high into the expected range.

Although New Orleans took a break from Mardi Gras during Super Bowl weekend, Jefferson Parish proceeded with its Family Gras festival and reported a record crowd of about 100,000.

"Overall the last three weeks have been red letter days for the city," Romig said. "Small business gets a good pop out of it. Hospitality jobs are secured."

"It's something we can look back on and feel very good that it happened and we all pulled together and did it," he said.