How the Tourism Andouille is Made

NOCVB president for 14 years, J. Stephen Perry shares the ingredients that go into selling New Orleans to the world.
Cheryl Gerber

For every convention booked or family trip planned to New Orleans, there was likely a marketing campaign or online resource consulted that informed the decisions. Thankfully for New Orleans, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) is working to keep those bookings up and develop new products to keep people coming back for more.
The NOCVB is one of the largest economic development corporations in Louisiana. It carries the responsibility for brand management, marketing and sales, and is valued at over $7 billion in visitor spending annually in New Orleans.

J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the NOCVB for the past 14 years, recently talked to Biz from an airport on his way to another meeting doing what he does best — advocating for the tourism and hospitality industry in New Orleans.

Biz New Orleans: What does a typical day look like for you?

There are times I wish I had a typical day. It seems like it is always a combination of things, and 80 percent of it changes with business, political and market circumstances.

My day is filled with conversations with clients, filled with always at least once a day negotiations with a potential customer. There are always major public policy matters that are being addressed, which involve conversations with the mayor, legislators and council members. They are frequent because of the broad range of what we deal with.

And then there’s a lot of everyday firefighting. This past week an example would be the NBA decision to move the All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina, because of anti-LGBT legislation. New Orleans is in the running. We are doing four years of work in a week in terms of special event negotiations, the legwork and all the things you have to do.

Biz: What’s new with the NOCVB?

What’s new right now is our convention sales team is working around the clock trying to put together all of the accommodations, venues and details to determine if we can host the 2017 NBA All-Star game seven months from now.

Our tourism team just finished hosting the first IPW (a large travel industry trade show sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association) in New Orleans in years. It was a tremendous success.

“We plan to grow $350 to $450 million per year over the top line here in New Orleans. Our goal is to get to 1 million international visitors a year.”

We are in involved in airline negotiations, and busty creating the new website as a merger of the CVB and NOTMC (New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation) websites. With our sales team of over 40 people we are constantly in motion around the country.

Biz: How much do you travel?

I have traveled as much as 90 hotel room nights in a year and over 100,000 miles. I have traveled at other times significantly less. It depends upon the year, upon the meetings, upon the sales calls. We have offices in five foreign nations — in Toronto, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Sao Paolo. We are also reaching into Italy and Japan as we speak. We have part-time representation there.

Biz: What impact do you project from IPW 2016 being held in NOLA?
From the IPW alone and the increase in our marketing, we’re looking to add approximately $1 billion dollars to the top line over the next three years. We plan to grow $350 to $450 million per year over the top line here in New Orleans. Our goal is to get to 1 million international visitors a year.

Biz: How are you going to accomplish that?

By doing things like hosting IPW. We brought more new buyers than we have ever had. We had more international buyers than had ever attended an IPW show before. We are expanding our international marketing and our international airlift into the city. One of the new airlines has already been signed, the Condor flight from Frankfurt into New Orleans. There are ongoing negotiations for other European connectivity.

Biz: How does the collaboration between NOCVB and NOTMC work?

It works seamlessly. We are in the same space. They occupy space on the fourth floor of our building immediately adjacent to our marketing team. We work together closely and are now merging our websites so there is a single powerful website for New Orleans.

Biz: How do you describe the economic impact tourism has on New Orleans?

It’s the most powerful economic development force in the city. More than any other sector, New Orleans is depending upon the richness and the depth of its cultural economy not only for tax generation and quality of life for residents, but for spurring other economic development. It’s something often overlooked, that we’re the largest employer—reaching employees of every background and every neighborhood—employing 86,000 people in a city of 375,000. That’s an extraordinary number.

The jobs reports show that while the oil and gas sector continues to struggle terribly, our sector continues to add jobs by the thousands, which is critical for New Orleans. Not only for those who need jobs but because when you have a job, you’re spending money and generating more taxes. So it’s really important.

The other thing that people forget about is that the hospitality industry and cultural economy is so powerful in that it really carries the brand of New Orleans to the world marketplace.

Biz: Do you ever have to fight negative connotations with the brand of New Orleans?

You always have to fight the negatives we have had in the past 10 years — things like natural disaster and crime. There are loads of things that have to be dealt with and explained. New Orleans’ beauty is that it is an incredibly authentic and real city. Part of its charm is that it is, in fact, imperfect.

Biz: What infrastructure would you like to see to better support our tourism industry?

Much of it is underway right now. The development of the new airport terminal is critical to our long-term growth and attractiveness.

Also, the reconnection of the city and the investment of the people to the riverfront. We have plans for over $1 billion in improvements, development, venues and facilities along the riverfront that will create an astonishing demand generator.

The thing we would like more than anything else is to have the government treat the French Quarter as a true crown jewel. We would love to see more aggressive work being done on sidewalks, streets, lighting and infrastructure in the French Quarter so that it would be impeccably maintained.

The final piece is that we support the development and expansion of the public safety infrastructure so that we have an adequate number of police and fire to protect this somewhat fragile, older city.

We have plans for over $1 billion in improvements, development, venues and facilities along the riverfront that will create an astonishing demand generator.

Biz: Looking back, what have been the biggest challenges during your time at NOCVB?

When I came it was the beginning of a monumental shift in the American convention business. During the ’90s and early 2000s, we really only had five competitors. Now we have 25 competitors. The expansion of the competitive marketplace has been staggering.

The most impactful issue that I’ve dealt with in the entire 14 years was, without any question of course, Katrina because the entire tourism industry was decimated. The city’s infrastructure was smashed. And yet what is so astonishing is that from this great challenge our industry rallied to redevelop and we led the recovery of this city, economically and jobs-wise. It was a devastating moment, but an incredibly proud recovery.

Biz: What has been your biggest achievement to date with NOCVB?

I think the biggest achievement is managing the brand of New Orleans though the horrors of Katrina — preserving the desirability of New Orleans as a destination for conventions, special events and for leisure tourists. And for hitting all the right notes and implementing all of the most effective strategies that put us now on a path where the cultural economy and tourism are the shining lights in this city.

Biz: What are you doing to prepare for the tricentennial?

The tricentennial efforts are being led by the mayor and a commission he has put together. We are working on a number of the committees and supporting the efforts every way that we can. It is not a tourism event, but it is an historical event about our history and our very nature.

We’re there to support it, and we’re going to be doing lots of things. We have a tremendous base of business in 2018 and we will be one of the leading marketers for the tricentennial, both domestically and internationally.

Biz: What are your plans for the future?

The plans for the future always involve the development of new product. Developing new attractions, new venues, interesting and compelling hotels. Helping spur the cultural product for plays and performances. Taking our world class convention environment and creating new and unique attractions that make New Orleans compelling to corporations and associations. We want to continue to assist in the development of new fairs and festivals.

We also want to connect in the most profound and deepest ways possible with the efforts of GNO Inc. and Idea Village so there is cross-pollination of all of the economic efforts in the city. Our goal is to continue to be and become an even greater player in helping solve social and other issues that confront our city, particularly in the areas of crime, public safety, the homeless and in terms of workforce and job training — especially the access of people from every neighborhood to a good, well-paying job.

Biz: What is your favorite thing to recommend to tourists on a trip to NOLA?

I tell them to explore. To literally open themselves up to experiences they’ve never had. I encourage them to walk — to let their eyes and ears be open in what I believe is the most sensory city in America. I always tell people to try at least one kind of food that you have never eaten. Soak up the architecture because there is no other place that looks like we do.

I encourage them to learn. Travel is about experience and learning. Whether it is at Audubon, the World War II Museum, the Cabildo or Presbytere, I really think people owe it to themselves to explore new things and I suggest they take some of our wonderful tours. Whether it is seeing what a real swamp looks like, or taking a paddlewheeler tour and getting the perspective of New Orleans from the river itself, ghost tours, voodoo tours, literary tours… there are things to see here that will literally open your eyes.

I always tell people to do something that will make your molecules rearrange a little bit.


Categories: The Magazine