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Advocate file photo of Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said Monday the number of international tourists who visited Louisiana is up 37 percent, the second biggest increase in the nation.

Residents of Canada top the list followed by those from the United Kingdom and Germany.

All three have direct international flights to New Orleans from Toronto, London and Frankfurt.

Nungesser said China represents a huge, mostly untapped market of potential tourists, in part because of what those residents see in movies and on TV.

"They love to go where movies are shot and where people are shot, like Bonnie and Clyde," he said, a reference to the two outlaws made famous by Hollywood and killed near Gibsland, La. in 1934.

The lieutenant governor made his comments to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Shanghai alone issues about 4,000 visas per day for travelers to the U.S., Nungesser said.

He said two groups of writers and bloggers recently visited Louisiana, which could spur interest among travelers.

As lieutenant governor Nungesser serves as the state's ambassador for tourism, a $1.8 billion industry and the state's fourth largest employer.

The state had 47.1 million visitors in 2017, including about 1 million from other nations.

Aside from the top three Australia, France, Mexico, China, Japan, Italy and Brazil make up the Top 10 markets for 2017.

In tourism circles visitors from other nations are especially coveted.

"The international visitor stays longer and spends more money," Nungesser said.

He said the push for visitors dovetails with Louisiana's film and TV credits, which have sparked controversy over what the tax breaks cost the state.

Nungesser said 57 percent of tourists who visited the state were influenced by something they saw on a TV show or in a movie. "A great opportunity for us to promote the film trail in Louisiana," he said.

Nungesser said the 2017 movie "Girls Trip," which is about four friends who travel to the Essence Festival in New Orleans, sparked an uptick in visitors.

The 1989 movie "Steel Magnolias" still triggers a parade of visitors to the site of its filming in Natchitoches.

Even unique, oldtime toy stores like Kaffie Frederick Inc, also in Natchitoches, can generate buzz on Facebook and elsewhere, Nungesser said.

While the state's food, music and fishing are big draws, Nungesser said residents of the state play a big part too.

He said that, during a dinner in Canada, he went around the table asking people what Louisiana evokes.

"Everyone at the table had a story about how we treat strangers like they are family," he said. "That is why our (tourism) numbers keep going up."

Nungesser said the state is in the final stages of completing 15 public-private partnerships aimed at helping to defray the costs for operating state parks and other sites. State aid for parks has suffered in recent years because of repeated budget problems.

He said a restaurant or other attraction at a park can generate dollars and help entrepreneurs without damaging local businesses.

Louisiana's tourism pitch is built around the slogan "feed your soul," which stemmed from comments generated in focus groups nationwide.

Last year on Mardi Gras, Nungesser and others traveled to Atlanta, Washington, D. C., Houston and Dallas to promote the state by offering slices of King Cake from food trucks.

The start of crawfish season features a ceremony similar to the president "pardoning" select turkeys at the White House a few days before Thanksgiving.

In Louisiana one crawfish pulled from the Atchafalaya Basin is allowed, with some ceremony, to finish its life in a state park "while the rest of his family is boiled alive," according to the lieutenant governor.

Nungesser said he recently tried to explain the ceremony to Vice President Mike Pence, without much luck.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.