Having just slammed Louisiana’s controversial religious liberty bill a few weeks ago, a leading New Orleans tourism official said Monday that his industry needs to become a more active political player.
“It’s time to become a political force because we employ the most people, we generate the most revenue and we generate the entire cultural economy,” said Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It’s time to translate the kind of dreams and ideas we have about the future of the state politically. We are going to become the kind of political power that we are as an economic power.”
Perry — who was chief of staff for former Gov. Mike Foster for seven years — spoke during the kickoff of National Tourism and Travel Week, an annual celebration of the travel industry. The New Orleans celebration included a rally at the House of Blues and a luncheon with a keynote address by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
Last month, Perry criticized House Bill 707 and asked legislators to table or amend the measure. Mirroring similar efforts in other states, the proposed Marriage and Conscience Act would protect companies that say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. In practice, that means, for instance, that a bakery might be able to refuse to provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.
“The adoption of certain types of overreaching, problematic and divisive legislation in Louisiana has the possibility of threatening our state’s third-largest industry and creating economic losses pushing past a billion dollars a year and costing us tens of thousands of jobs,” Perry wrote to legislators last month. “Discrimination is the antithesis of hospitality. Hospitality invites. It does not divide.”
Like Perry himself, his industry is no stranger to the state capital. It routinely lobbies legislators and provides money for legislative campaigns through its New Orleans Hospitality Coalition PAC.
Last year, for instance, the industry quickly came together to defeat a measure that would have raised the occupancy tax rate on hotel rooms by 1.75 percent. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted the extra money to help balance the city budget, but tourism leaders said the hike would have made New Orleans one of the most expensive travel destinations in the nation.
Still, Perry said Monday that the tourism industry needs to start throwing its weight around in the same way the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry do. He said the industry members are concerned, among other things, about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget for health care and higher education.
“Right now, I’ve got to tell you, we’ve been faced with a few things in Baton Rouge that are not really great for our industry,” Perry told the gathering of tourism leaders and employees. “This state is in real peril — higher education, hospitals, state parks and museums and libraries. Let your voice be known to every elected official that this matters and that we can’t continue down the path that we’re on. Because if we do, we’re not going to be the Louisiana that we want to be.”
After this legislative session, the industry will turn its attention to local government, Perry said.
“The next frontier for us (is) the French Quarter has got to start looking better. We want it to be cleaner; we want it to have a better caliber of shops. We want to have more enforcement of the rules and regulations,” Perry said. “And after we get through the legislative session, we’ll start meeting with the council on ways to accomplish that.”
The New Orleans area tourism industry is responsible for 80,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the CVB. Last year, 9.52 million people visited New Orleans, spending more than $6.8 billion, according to a study commissioned by the industry.