National Travel and Tourism Week arrives as infrastructure deal is struck
More than 80 cities nationwide are participating in the U.S. Travel Association’s 36th annual National Travel and Tourism Week May 5-11. New Orleans is part of that number with New Orleans and Company leading the charge.
A Tourism Matters Pep Rally was held Tuesday, May 7 at Champions Square to thank and celebrate regional hospitality industry employees. According to New Orleans and Company, tourism is the largest industry in New Orleans, and it employs more than 89,000 people.
At the pep rally, guests heard remarks from Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser; Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans and Company; Doug Thornton, executive vice president of SMG; Mark Romig, president and CEO of New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation; and even New Orleans native and former Saints wide receiver Michael Lewis took to the stage.
Lewis shared feedback he often receives as he travels the country, and it’s something most New Orleanians are familiar with. Lewis said that when he meets people and tells them he he’s from New Orleans, they respond by telling him either that they’ve never been and really want to visit, or that they have visited and want to return for another trip.
That draw to New Orleans, encompassed by so many people and contained in so much lore, is seized upon by marketing professionals who work to highlight New Orleans as a destination. And it is working.
New Orleans welcomed a record 17.7 million visitors in 2017, who spent $8.8 billion. The 2018 visitation numbers have not yet been released, but they were referenced at the Pep Rally and they will likely be available to the public soon. Some 2018 numbers have been shared by New Orleans and Company, including more than 1,200 conventions hosted, 1.8 million hotel rooms booked and a $1.2 billion economic impact.
Last month, New Orleans and Company released a new video highlighting reasons why “tourism matters.”
Tourism does matter, and so does the city’s infrastructure. After months of work and negotiations, New Orleans and Company announced on May 6 that the state of Louisiana, City of New Orleans and local tourism leaders had worked out an agreement on an infrastructure deal.
Perry spoke about it at the pep rally and said that the deal was truly a compromise where all parties might feel a bit disappointed. That gave me reassurance that it was thoroughly negotiated, and both citizens and visitors will be served well by the plan.
The infrastructure agreement outlines a $50 million one-time payment to the Sewerage & Water Board in 2019, as well as $17.5 million in loan forgiveness for the City of New Orleans over the next five years in delayed GO Zone repayments to the state.
The $50 million is comprised of $22 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding from the state’s Division of Administration Office from Hurricane Katrina and $28 million from the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, of which $20 million is new money and $8 million is repurposed funding.
In a press release sent the day before the pep rally, Perry called the deal a tremendous achievement and said, “Our industry had an obligation to do all that we could to change the decades-old pattern of deferred maintenance and management challenges within the city’s Sewerage and Water Board agency. We’ve leaned-in to this challenge and have helped provide a solution through an extremely generous funding stream. Our hope is that City Hall and the Sewerage and Water Board can put our city’s infrastructure back on the track of reliability and efficiency. Our city’s residents and visitors expect and deserve this, and now there is no excuse for our city to not be able to provide it.”
The onus in now on the City and Sewerage and Water Board to use this funding responsibly and strategically. I know a water main on Claiborne Avenue that could use some TLC.