Au Revoir, Sort Of
Tourism coverage shifting at Biz
The only thing that is constant is change. And in these new COVID-19 times, change comes continuously. This will be the last Biz Tourism Blog for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. Biz online remains committed to tourism coverage and will report the news as it develops, however, my weekly witty reporting will cease.
It has been an honor to have this vantage point on tourism for more than five years, and readers can be assured that I will continue to apply my view to my monthly tourism column in Biz New Orleans magazine.
If it is not yet clear to our community, the ecology of tourism in New Orleans is vast. At its core, tourism is about people, and our people are hurting. New Orleans and Company reported more than 89,000 people were employed in hospitality and tourism in our region pre-pandemic, based on Bureau of Labor statistics. That’s twice the number of people who live in my hometown.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission’s June 2020 labor report showed that metropolitan New Orleans is suffering terrible job losses in roles linked to tourism – leisure and hospitality lost 31,000 jobs over the year; arts, entertainment and recreation lost 3,500 jobs over the year; accommodation lost 1,100 jobs over the year; and food services and drinking places lost 26,400 jobs over the year. That totals 62,000 jobs lost of the possible 89,000. While comparing data sets with different parameters is tricky, the point is clear. Tens of thousands of New Orleanians are out of work with no end to the pandemic in sight, and now, the extra $600 unemployment benefit from the CARES Act expires July 31.
The bigger picture, which is harder to see than data sets, includes jobs on the periphery of tourism and hospitality. Consider the advertising sales rep who was laid off because restaurants aren’t buying advertising; the printing press worker who was laid off because that convention was cancelled and they no longer needed signage; or the ticketing agency IT worker who was laid off because no one is buying tickets to shows.
How do those laid off people spend what money they do have? What bills do they skip and for how long? Then, what do the landlords do to meet their expenses? I find it disconcerting that on the precipice of mass evictions, the City of New Orleans has hired the former general manager of Sonder, a major short-term rental operator I have reported on before, as the city’s new deputy chief administrative officer of land use. The Lens reported the city is looking for a ‘major paradigm shift’ to blend land use regulation with economic development initiatives. The city clearly needs more revenue in the wake of major tax loss due to COVID-19, but at what cost? Are we going to turn every laid off bartender’s former apartment into a short-term rental?
These are uncharted waters. Many people point to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920 to try and find answers. We learned a lot from that time that still informs public health practices, but the economic recovery lessons aren’t as applicable. The job landscape, especially as it pertains to tourism and hospitality, was incredibly different a century ago. Though one uncanny similarity links our dear Louis Armstrong to today. In his memoir, he wrote this about the Spanish Flu, “Just when the government was about to let crowds of people congregate again so that we could play our horns once more the lid was clamped down tighter than ever. That forced me to take any odd jobs I could get.”
This isn’t about me. I am grateful to have a full-time job I love in addition to the writing I am privileged to do for Biz. What I hope we can all keep in mind is that nothing will be the same and we need to find the “new normal” together. Check on your friends. Do whatever you can to help those who need it. We are all in that number in New Orleans, and our sense of community will see us through if we keep sight of it.