Reflecting on tourism in small towns and crescent cities
In this time of gratitude, I’m reflecting on my role as a tourism writer. Yesterday, I laughed to myself imagining what it would be like if I was a tourism writer in the town I grew up in, rather than in my adult home of New Orleans.
It was, and is, a small town in Indiana, but not too small by Hoosier standards. It boasts a museum and hall of fame dedicated to recreational vehicles and a shockingly great annual jazz festival. Preservation Hall Jazz Band has even headlined it. But beyond those two cultural touchstones, there isn’t a whole lot else going on tourism-wise.
If I were a tourism writer for its local newspaper, I suppose I could compose a guide to the best corn fields to sneak into or the ideal county roads to drive fast on. I would definitely write a 24-hour nightlife guide that would be nearly complete with just Steak ‘n Shake and Walmart, neither of which are actually in the city limits.
You get the picture. It’s a flyover town in a flyover state, as the coastal elites would view it. Now that I am a Gulf Coastal elite, I appreciate having grown up there and love the people I grew up with, but I’m especially grateful to now live in a city that draws visitors from all over the world.
New Orleans has so much character, it doesn’t even need a specific event to attract people to it. I’ve asked tourists what brings them here on several occasions (yes, sitting next to me at a bar), and I’m never surprised when they say things like: “I wanted to see the iron balconies,” “I’ve wanted to look at the Mississippi River since I read ‘Huckleberry Finn’ in seventh grade,” or even reference things from our not-so-proud past like, “I wanted to stand at the train stop where Homer Plessy stood.”
For over 300 years, New Orleans has inspired people to imagine new beginnings, new businesses, new freedoms and new festivals. People like me, who were privileged enough to have access to education, then wrote about it. We picked up our quills, our Cross pens, our Remington typewriters and our MacBooks, and used the tools of our trade to spin tales about visiting this unique place located on the crescent of one of the world’s greatest rivers. How lucky are we?
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to so many people who I don’t know and will likely never meet. There are thousands of individuals who work in the tourism and hospitality industry directly, and countless more who contribute to our cultural economy, which draws visitors here in the first place.
My thanks go out to hotel maids, cab drivers, airline gate attendants, museum interns, music teachers, bucket drummers, Chinese factory workers producing Mardi Gras beads, landscapers, dishwashers, street car drivers, charcoal sketch artists, tarot readers, tour guides, festival volunteers, float designers, high school marching bands, costume shop employees, and literally everyone working in the service industry during Jazz Fest and BUKU.
To all those who strive to make New Orleans a destination, and a wonderful place to live, I’m grateful to you.