We’ve come a long way from the desperate days of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and nowhere is that more evident than in Louisiana's tourism industry.
Last year was the sixth in a row of record-breaking state tourism numbers. More than 47 million visitors came to Louisiana, including both domestic and foreign tourists — the latter particularly prized because they tend to stay longer and spend more in hotels and restaurants.
New Orleans, of course, is the crown jewel of Louisiana tourism, one of the internationally known draws for visitors. That is why the images of devastation in 2005 were such a setback for tourism in the whole region.
Today, the convention and tourist business is healthy. "New Orleans has seen steady growth in tourism numbers since 2009, consecutively surpassing our annual numbers in visitation and visitor spending each year," said Stephen Perry, head of the convention and visitors bureau that is rebranding itself as New Orleans & Co.
The snappier name is a trend in tourism bureaus; it is Visit Baton Rouge in the capital city, for example.
The 18 million visitors to New Orleans are a key part of the overall tourism economy. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the state's chief tourism official, said visitors' spending fueled $1.8 billion in state and local taxes and employed more than 230,000 in related jobs.
The Crescent City is pushing ahead with a new airport and more direct flights to London and Frankfurt. Safety of visitors is always a concern for big cities, which is why Louisiana State Police works with New Orleans police, and quiet work is continually underway to prevent terrorist incidents like those in Boston and Las Vegas.
But the city's track record for managing big events is unsurpassed, we think, and likely to remain so.
For Nungesser, whose responsibilities include the entire state, the New Orleans draw is also an opportunity to have visitors extend their stays and visit plantation homes and the other attractions in the state.
In Lafayette recently, Nungesser noted that Acadiana's cultural appeal helps the economy whether energy prices are up or down: "At a time when the oil field is struggling, the tourism industry has continued to bring business into these communities and help the local restaurants, shops and hotels," he said.
Louisiana, of course, is not immune from national trends. International tourism is not helped when U.S. politicians fulminate about immigration, even if the two really are not connected. Perhaps the ties of blood and heritage will overcome the headline-making fights over trade with Canada and Mexico this year.
There is room for growth.
In the bruising legislative debate over early renewal of Harrah's lease on the New Orleans casino, eventually shelved for a time, the company's officials said they felt that they could have booked 90,000 more room-nights last year with a new hotel and other amenities.
We want that company and others to succeed in growing business. Everyone wins with a healthy tourism industry in Louisiana.