Confidence in Uncertainty
Confidence in Uncertainty
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.
There is a trick to magazine publishing. For those lucky enough to be involved, we get to travel into the future. Each issue is prepared weeks and months in advance and the best in the Biz do it with timely, nearly psychic powers.
In last month’s issue, when I wrote about the return of the Carnival Glory cruise ship to the Port of New Orleans, it was to herald the restart of an important component of tourism in our region. Now, after Hurricane Ida paid her visit, the Carnival Glory is instead serving as a temporary home to first-responders and other workers who are helping to restore power and clean up the storm’s aftermath.
“While we want to provide the city of New Orleans with an economic boost by restarting guest operations, we want to first provide this critical housing support to address emergency needs and to get power restored to the region,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, in a statement.
This deal with the city of New Orleans and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is yet another link between Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Katrina, which share an anniversary 16 years apart. After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA also worked with Carnival Cruise Line to provide ships as temporary housing in New Orleans. This time, gratefully, the Carnival Glory should be underway for Caribbean vacations by the time you read this.
Covering tourism in New Orleans used to be somewhat predictable. We have festival season, football season, the holiday season, and that little shindig called Mardi Gras. The ebbs and flows of the Mississippi River mirror the waxing and waning of tourists in town. The crowds, the hotel and restaurant reservations, the lines at the airport, and the tax revenue generated by those visitors were things that could be anticipated. Never guaranteed, especially during hurricane season, but reasonably assumed.
Things are different now. The potential of drastic change that has always been linked to a chance of hurricanes now applies to every day of the year. The ability to time travel and write about festivals, or even the New Orleans Saints, has become more challenging during the global pandemic of COVID-19.
In August, when I heard that French Quarter Festival would again be canceled this year, my first thought was of Emily Madero, the executive director of French Quarter Festivals Inc. When I interviewed her in March about the rescheduled festival, then set for October, we both felt some trepidation. We live in a superstitious place, and speaking of the future almost felt like tempting fate. That interview was before the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus became widespread, infection rates increased, and countless other festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, were canceled.
So, the trick of writing about the future, which at its core is filled with ego, has become especially precarious. No one knows what tomorrow brings, but magazine publishers usually get pretty close. That’s why, even with the challenges of COVID-19 cancellations and the risk of storms, I am confident in my uncertainty.
Tourists will come back to New Orleans. They have been returning, and will continue to do so. The Carnival cruise ships will again be filled with travelers who drove and flew into the city to set sail. I can write this with confidence from years of covering tourism in our town, and most especially, from the feedback I heard when my family was evacuated from Hurricane Ida.
We first stayed at a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama for a week. The hotel employees, the guests in the lobby at breakfast, and even the staff at Good People Brewing Company all had wonderful things to share about visiting New Orleans. From behind their masks, you could see the smile in their eyes as they told stories of coming to New Orleans for work or vacation — conferences, bachelor parties, anniversaries — every tale of the Crescent City was filled with a desire to return.
Our second week of evacuation in Atlanta, with a friend and her family, brought more of the same. The people we met all love coming to New Orleans. They even refrained from boasting about their football team and complimented us about ours. In our two weeks away from home, no one had a bad thing to say about New Orleans.
I’m going to keep writing about events, even though they may be canceled, because the desire to attend them has not diminished. The culture that shapes our days draws people like no other American city. Storms will come, the power will go out, public health will require changes, and through it all New Orleans will welcome people with open arms.