When it comes to the problems facing New Orleans, there’s a lot of disagreement about how to get things fixed.
There isn’t any great disagreement that more needs to be fixed, that people are fed up with bottled water and potholes.
But one thing is clear, even amid a sometimes acrimonious discussion of tourism agencies’ finances in the state’s epicenter of visitors: The Advocate’s tourism summit showed that there is a citywide, if not statewide, commitment to the hospitality industry.
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We think that the summit, coming as it does during discussions of the allocation of state and local resources to the city’s challenges, could not be more timely.
Leaders in the industry talked about the day-to-day challenges of keeping even one of the most distinctive cities in the United States fresh and exciting for return visitors. Even giant facilities like the Morial Convention Center or the iconic Mercedes-Benz Superdome continually need freshening with investment to keep up with a global travel marketplace.
The acrimonious part: differences over the allocation of revenues not to city government but to independent state-built entities like the Superdome and the Convention Center.
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It’s “not sexy” to replace a 40-acre roof that’s 35 years old, said Michael Sawaya of the Convention Center, but it’s essential. Many of the funding streams that the city government might want to tap — a difficult political issue, involving the Legislature as well as City Hall — pay for maintaining and expanding the facilities, but also for marketing the city worldwide.
As top aide John Pourciau said on the panel, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is committed to the city’s success in tourism but must balance the revenues going to tourism with the city’s needs. “If we don’t care of basic services with the finite number of dollars we have, it won’t matter how well the city is marketed,” Pourciau said.
Basic services are vital: “We have all this great culture here but we also have, unfortunately, a culture of crime,” noted Barry Kern of Mardi Gras World. “That’s not happening in those other venues.”
Revenue from tourism is vital to the city’s bottom line, but all that business also benefits the state as a whole. If there is going to be any adjustment to the existing structure of tourism finance, the Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards also have to be consulted.
The summit was a chance to air the arguments but also underscored the importance in the city’s leadership, across the board, to keep tourism vibrant in our economy.
We would argue that there are always going to be shifts and adjustments in such a challenging industry: The rising generation of millennial travelers are interested in experiences, and New Orleans — including other places in Louisiana where U.S. and international visitors can extend their stays — cannot purely market its old Dixieland traditions.
As with the mayor, we believe there is an underlying consensus on keeping tourism vibrant in the city’s future.