Right Place, Right Time
After (nearly) five years of covering New Orleans tourism, the future of the industry just keeps getting brighter.
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.
Between the 54 monthly magazine columns (so far) and 220 weekly blogs on www.bizneworleans.com, I have written approximately 175,000 words about tourism in New Orleans. I estimate 100,000 of them were the word “tricentennial.”
I may joke about it, but that 300-year milestone was a privilege to cover. The people of New Orleans incorporated the city’s history into nearly every event. Organizations used the lens of the past to look critically at our successes and our failures. We honestly asked ourselves, “Will New Orleans still be here 300 years from now?” We are still asking that.
We know we are here today, however, and we also know more tourists are joining us every year. In 2018, we welcomed 18.51 million visitors to New Orleans, according to a D.K. Shifflet & Associates (DKSA) study that also reported a 4.29 percent increase in visitors over 2017, the first year DKSA was commissioned by New Orleans & Company and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation to do the study.
In 2015, the Hospitality Research Center at the University of New Orleans reported that the city welcomed 9.78 million visitors, but for the following years the contract was shifted to DKSA in a move tourism officials said enabled New Orleans to be in line with the state of Louisiana, as well as with competing markets that also use DKSA.
The biggest change to come to tourism in the region, however, is the opening of the $1 billion replacement terminal at Louis Armstrong International New Orleans Airport (MSY). The airport has experienced tremendous growth, including many new nonstop flights, the biggest of which being the year-round British Airways service to London, which began in March 2017. It marked the first nonstop flight from MSY to Europe since the 1980s. Condor Airlines followed with seasonal nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany, in the summer of 2017, which continued for three years. Condor’s corporate parent, Thomas Cook Group, filed for bankruptcy in September, so we’ll have to wait and see what 2020 will bring for Condor. And just this month, Air Transat will begin seasonal nonstop flights to Montreal.
At the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, construction has been underway to redevelop the property. Last month it opened its new transportation center for buses, shuttles, taxis and ride shares as part of its $557 million, five-year modernization plan adopted by Exhibition Hall Authority Board May 2018. The next piece of the plan to open will be the Pedestrian Park, planned for late 2020. And, of course, we have the ongoing proposals to develop a 1,200-room convention center headquarters hotel that will incorporate a 39-acre mixed-use project with retail, dining and entertainment.
We just can’t seem to stop building hotels. According to HVS, a professional services firm specializing in hospitality industry intelligence, the central New Orleans hotel room supply in 2015 was 23,627, and it increased to 25,087 in 2018. Construction of the Four Seasons World Trade Center, slated to be completed in early 2020, could add another 350 rooms. Other potential developments, including the proposed convention center hotel, could bring the total to 29,408 by 2020.
These are just a few of the big stories to look forward to. When it comes to the future of tourism in New Orleans, I have no doubt there will be plenty to write about.