By Martin Owen
We just spent a long weekend in New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities. It’s totally unique. I was first introduced to NOLA in 1972 as a young travel agent on a U.S. tour
(seven cities in 10 days!). Being taken to Bourbon Street as a 20-year-old was quite an eye-opener. Luckily my wife lived in New Orleans for quite awhile and really is “local,” so we’re not exactly tourists when we visit at least four times a year.
The city is a real case study for tourism, joining an historic center with a mix of cultures plus being a living, thriving business hub. It has nearly year-round tourism, although the local businesses are only too aware when they have fewer tourists. The Crescent City is known world over for Mardi Gras (or Carnival, as the locals term it) which is both a blessing and a curse as it attracts enormous numbers of tourists. Those tourists tend to consider partying an Olympic sport, which adds a whole new level to tourist management. Natural events like Hurricane Katrina also have put an added strain on the city, and its recovery from a tourism point of view has been nothing short of remarkable.
The great thing about NOLA is that no matter if you’re a local or from out of town, the folks treat you like a tourist — in a good way. You’re treated in a friendly manner, asked if you know the way, told about events and restaurants, and genuinely treated like a valued guest. That doesn’t just apply to the French Quarter, but pretty much across the city. Once you’ve established that you’re a local, there’s a whole new level to the hospitality. As I say, New Orleans has managed tourism to an art form.
It’s paying off as they receive new international flights from Britain this year, and four destinations in Germany will be served next year. As Northwest Florida has the beaches for New Orleans, and NOLA is our closest international airport (in drive time), that bodes well for our tourism, too.
Mardi Gras and The Quarter bring a problem similar to the one we experience with Spring Break and the summer tourist season — security. NOLA has addressed this by introducing a quarter-cent sales tax payable only in the French Quarter. The 9 million tourists a year hardly notice the tax as it amounts to only 25 cents per $100 purchase. This generates $2 million in sales tax. The hospitality organizations match this, and an additional $500k is added from bed tax, giving a total of $4.5 million.
This added security funds full-time Louisiana State Troopers supplementing the New Orleans Police Department to protect locals and tourists alike. As you’ll see, virtually all the costs come from the tourists themselves, not the locals, yet doesn’t take too much from the bed tax which is aimed at tourist promotion — which is certainly working.
It’s an approach that’s worth looking at.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.