New Hospitality Task Force Wants to Recession-Proof New Orleans Tourism

In order to stave off the effects of the global economic downturn on its local economy, New Orleans has formed a new 17-member task force charged with growing tourism in the Big Easy, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Laundrieu announced last week.

Because the recession has been slow to hit New Orleans, Landrieu has charged the task force—called the New Orleans Hospitality Strategic Task Force—with developing a proactive "master plan" that will minimize the economic impact once tourism to New Orleans eventually and inevitably slows—probably in 2010 and 2011.

"With budget deficits and the economic recession, tourism revenue and jobs are now more important than ever," Landrieu said in a statement. "Through this master planning process, we can best position ourselves to minimize the negative impacts on businesses that rely on tourists and enhance our ability to create jobs and attract visitors."

Landrieu's task force will begin by analyzing New Orleans' tourism industry, which is the state's second largest, generating in New Orleans alone between $250 million and $300 million in annual tax revenue, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, and approximately $5 billion in annual visitor spending. From there, it plans to develop new marketing programs and attractions—including festivals and fairs—designed to increase visitor numbers and create new travel industry jobs.

"We are going to look at the 'Gross Hospitality Product,'" said Task Force Co-Chair Doug Thornton, senior vice president of SMG. "We are going to answer the question, 'What are the key measurements that determine the success of the New Orleans tourism industry?'"

Among Landrieu's 17 task force members are Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association; Bob Johnson, president/general manager of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; and Steven Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

To fund his task force's work, Landrieu will seek $250,000 in state, local and private funding. In addition, he will lobby against Gov. Bobby Jindal's recommended executive budget, which proposes transferring funding for a number of Louisiana events—such as the Sugar Bowl and the New Orleans Bowl—from state general funds to self-generated tourism funds, thereby decreasing the state's available pool of tourism marketing dollars.

"For every dollar the state spend on tourism advertising, the office returns $17 to state coffers," Landrieu said. "If you want to grow the economy, this is one area where spending more makes sense."