The Future of Tourism in New Orleans
By Ana García
Click aqui para español- >El Futuro del Turismo en Nueva Orleans
Will New Orleans still be a world-class destination in 2023? We have undoubtedly witnessed all the exciting events that took place in 2022 after the world crisis that was the pandemic. It was with excitement that we were finally able to see our city return to normal. The French Quarter, hotels, restaurants, festivals, and championships, were filled with tourists from all over the country and the world. The curtain opened again. In theater, there is someone behind the scenes responsible for ensuring everything goes perfectly; the same happens with tourism. In this case, New Orleans & Company is responsible for opening the New Orleans curtain. With each event, the curtain closes to prepare for the next event and ensure New Orleans continues to be a world-class destination.
New Orleans & Company is the largest private industry in New Orleans. This organization is the tourism and hospitality industry’s official destination sales, marketing and trade organization, responsible for driving over $10 billion of annual business to the regional cultural economy and attracting leisure and cultural travel, business meetings, conventions, weddings, festivals, sporting, and special events to New Orleans in a highly competitive global environment. After the current CEO, J. Stephen Perry, announced his retirement at the end of 2022 after 20 years in this position, Walter “Walt” J. Leger III, the current Vice Chairman of New Orleans & Company, will assume the role of president on January 1, 2023. Over the past 20 years, the city has achieved record levels of visitors, won Super Bowl, Final Four, and NBA All-Star Game bids, created thousands of jobs and careers in the hospitality industry, secured critical investment returns, and won multiple national and international awards according to neworleans.com.
The Sugar Bowl is just one of the major sporting events that will be back in our city at the beginning of the year. The Miss Universe pageant will be another great event that will delight the world directly from New Orleans for the first time in Louisiana history. Miss Universe is an asset in fostering international tourism since the number of international visitors has decreased dramatically in recent years. “I think in 2019, we had about 900,000 international visitors. Those numbers are dramatically reduced right now, the pandemic obviously caused that, but there are also other challenges with visa applications and other things being delayed that made it difficult for people to travel internationally,” said Leger. To help counteract the situation, New Orleans & Company will continue to strongly advocate with the Biden administration and the State Department to improve the visa process.
The ninety-five contestants in Miss Universe serve as ambassadors for their countries and turn event spectators into potential visitors. The tourism executives see this exposure to an international audience as an opportunity to showcase New Orleans and show a diverse culture that can connect with and attract many people. Hospitality and restaurants have remained busy and provided exceptional service, despite challenges with COVID variants and staffing difficulties. For Leger, the Final Four best demonstrated New Orleans’ ability to host visitors with various events. “The Final Four was just spectacular this year: the city was full, the energy was incredible, we had great teams here, and that really set off an amazing year of meetings, conferences, and events. New Orleans is ready to welcome thousands of visitors in 2023.”
New Orleans & Company understands the challenges of the uptick in crime in New Orleans. To help with the situation, they have donated vehicles to the New Orleans Police Department to patrol the French Quarter. “We want everyone to be safe and have a great time. That’s why we sort of take our role as seriously as we do, and we recognize that we will continue to be partners in fighting crime and providing resources necessary to supplement, but we do see a lot of progress. NOPD is redeploying officers in a different way”, Leger stated.
The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) is vital for hosting various global events. It has been undergoing structural and environmental changes to stay a top destination. “Sustainability in travel is emerging as a more important issue because people who travel want to know what kind of carbon footprint they are leaving when they take a flight or when they visit a destination,” explained Leger. The linear 7-acre park built along Convention Center Boulevard includes rain gardens and other functional tools to remove rainwater and reduce the pressure from the storm drainage. Last October, the NOENMCC received the LEED v4.1 certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first convention center in the world to receive the certification for sustainable practices. The New Orleans & Company team is proud of its partnership with the convention center. It recognizes that creating these sustainable practices will help keep and bring more conferences, conventions, events, sports championships, and other events to New Orleans. “We are going to keep pushing as hard as we can to make sure that this place is among the most sustainable from an environmental
standpoint as it can be,” added Leger.
In terms of attracting and welcoming Spanish-speaking visitors, New Orleans and Company will focus on strengthening its relationship with Mexico. Leger recognizes the growing local Spanish-speaking population. “As a company, we’re going to have to be smart and strategic about how we continue to create opportunities for engagement and also make sure that we are fully welcoming to those that speak Spanish,” said Leger.
2023 will continue to carry some of the challenges the tourism industry faces, but New Orleans & Company is ready. “Our team has been very competitive, and we are going to continue to be extremely aggressive in how we pursue these events and bring them to New Orleans,” said Leger. Leger’s vision assures us that our city will continue to be a world-class destination not only in 2023 but also in the future. No matter how many times the curtain closes, as long as it always opens, we can continue to welcome the rest of the world and share the charm of our city.