Baton Rouge for the past two weeks has enjoyed some nationwide buzz, with a steady stream of fawning tweets from Miss USA contestants about the capital city’s culinary prowess, performing karaoke at a downtown bar and the scenery along the Mississippi River.
It’s a value to the city that Baton Rouge tourism officials call priceless, culminating with prime-time televised coverage of Sunday’s pageant that made frequent mention of the host location. But, in reality, the price tag was at least $350,000 for an incentive package cobbled together by the state and local tourism offices.
In addition, the Miss USA organization stands to receive more than twice that amount from Louisiana’s generous film tax credits. To date, the company has not received the credits but did submit an application to recoup 30 percent of the money it spent in Louisiana for the production and an additional 5 percent for labor.
An audit will ultimately determine how much the organization will receive in tax credits, but in its initial application, the organization estimated its expenditures would be $2,816,000, which could yield another $844,800 in tax credits.
Over the past two weeks, Miss USA contestants and their family and friends filled hotels and restaurants in the Baton Rouge area. The contestants also have posted pictures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter spotlighting a variety of Baton Rouge attractions, businesses and customs.
Crawfish was a popular theme on their social media accounts, with many shout-outs given to Tony’s Seafood for a tour provided to the contestants and a crustacean taste test.
Even celebrities, with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media accounts, praised Baton Rouge on friendliness and good food.
Beauty pageant judge Lance Bass, the former NSYNC singer with more than 376,000 Twitter followers, posted a picture from Bistro Byronz, calling it the “best food in Baton Rouge” and proclaiming his love for its king cake bread pudding.
Baton Rouge also got shout-outs from celebrities like host Guiliana Rancic, an E! TV personality, and Rumer Willis, another judge and the daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.
Even Donald Trump, who owns the competition, praised Baton Rouge in a red carpet interview.
“Louisiana is a hotbed,” he told an Advocate reporter. “There’s fantastic people, and we sold out in one hour after the show was announced.”
Baton Rouge was selected as the site because it “really wanted it,” he said, adding that “we’ll come back.”
The Miss Universe Organization estimates the value of the advertising for the city is about $95 million, based on international exposure in addition to the prime-time show that highlighted Baton Rouge and the surrounding area as the backdrop for the competition.
About 5.5 million people tuned in to watch the Miss USA pageant live Sunday night — which is about a 20 percent increase over 2013. For the first time, the program was three hours instead of two.
However, the organization frequently boasts that international rebroadcasts boost the viewership of the event to about 100 million people.
“This is like investing money in advertising,” said Visit Baton Rouge President Paul Arrigo. “The amount of exposure we received on TV and social media is priceless.”
Data on hotel occupancy for the region has not yet been released, but officials say the benefits were felt throughout the city.
Gary Jupiter, Baton Rouge Lodging Association president and manager of the DoubleTree Hotel on Constitution Avenue, said his business was up about 20 percent from this time last year. He said downtown hotels were even busier.
Most importantly, the event promoted Baton Rouge as a destination, potentially yielding more visitors in the future, Jupiter said.
“It showed that Baton Rouge can compete with other great cities in the country and put on a good show,” he said. “I talked to the people while they were here and they loved it. Two weeks in one city is a pretty long time, and we kept them busy — they never had a dull moment.”
Peter Scalfani, who owns Ruffino’s, said his new downtown event hall got a boost from the pageant. He hosted three parties at the Third Street location in the past two weeks, including one for Miss Louisiana Brittany Guidry.
He said the exposure also helped boost Baton Rouge’s culinary profile.
“We’ve always known how great our food is here, and sometimes it seems like we end up behind New Orleans,” he said. “But we had a chance to show that we do have a great food culture here, and now the rest of the country can see what we’ve already known.”
Advocate writer John Wirt contributed to this report.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.