Are More Visitors Really What We Need?

We love visitors to the city. We really do, despite the fact that some come to New Orleans with pre-conceived expectations of it being “party city,” and then proceed to drink to excess (drinking to have recreational fun is NOT the same as drinking to excess), trash the city streets, and acting like—shall we say boorish—while they are here.

I wonder how often if those types of tourists are those sorts of people who come back to New Orleans again and again. The visitor who come back to New Orleans repeatedly are those who are entranced more by the flavor, culture, music and charm of the city rather than the opportunity to get wasted whenever they can on the street (‘cause they probably can’t do that in their hometown).The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) recently announced that New Orleans hosted over 9.5 million visitors in 2014. This number came from a research study prepared for the bureau by the University of New Orleans, and is up from 9.3 million in 2013. The NOCVB’s goals are to at least top the 10.1 million visitors the city enjoyed the year before Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Times have certainly changed; New Orleans had positioned itself for decades as a convention city, and leisure travelers weren’t really the CVB’s concern back in the good ole days of massive conventions hosted in New Orleans. That changed drastically after Katrina, when years’ worth of conventions and meetings cancelled in the wake of the hurricane. Since then, the CVB and New Orleans Tourism Marketing have been pushing full throttle towards attracting more leisure travelers, and efforts are paying off.

According to the report, New Orleans had the most visitors during April and May, and to a lesser extent June. Those music festivals attract more visitors every year.

Even more important to note is that over 77 percent of visitors reported they were in New Orleans for vacation, and only about 12 percent were here to attend a convention.

The study said that most visitors (36 percent) are baby boomers, aged 50 to 64, with a median age of 57. A little over 28 percent were from the Gen-X generation (35 to 49).

This isn’t surprising: baby boomers have the most money to spend on leisure travel.

Most visitors are from drive-in markets: over 39 percent are from Louisiana outside New Orleans plus Mississippi, Texas and Florida.

The goal of the CVB is to sell conventions and to increase tourism, and numbers are looking good. But, of course, they feel they must do better.

MoreThisOrThis3But here’s another question: What’s the strategy to attract visitors who will come back again and again to the city who are more interested in enjoying our cultural assets, and whose orientation is preserving it rather than wrecking it?

Should we be marketing the city to potential visitors who are more likely to spend more money, stay here longer (average stay proclaimed by the current study was four days), and who are more appreciative of our culture?

Maybe we should think more about the quality of visitors and less about the quantity, or how many people we can cram into the city to put “heads in beds.”

We consistently need more efforts geared at foreign visitors. There may be less of them, but those international baby boomers have as much (or more) money to spend here; they stay longer (particularly during summer months) and there are more culturally attuned. I can also attest—because of the business that we’re in—that twenty-something visitors from foreign countries are more interested in the culture than their counterparts from this country. And they stay longer, and have more money to spend. What’s not to love?

I wish we had a long-range goal to attract a higher-quality visitor rather than just be geared to pumping up the numbers. Less visitors to trash the city, who will spend more money, have more respect for our culture, and who will stay longer.

Is that a good trade-off? What’s your opinion?

  • Pat Newns

    My husband and I have come back to NOLA every year for the past 5 years. Usually it’s in winter to escape the cold of Philly but we have also been there in Oct and Aug. We stay for at least 10 days and never run out of interesting things to experience and wonderful things to eat. We love your beautiful city and will continue to return.

  • Wish NOLA was home

    I have been attending FQF (two weeks) and Jazz Appreciation Month (1 – 2 weeks) for the past 15 years, starting in 1998. Was there in October 2005 when FQF was putting on one of the bravest faces known. Outstanding musicians playing for tips just to stay alive. Because so many “locals” move and did not return following the break to the Levies, things have changed in many ways.
    I will likely forego my April visit after this year (far too busy) and go down in early October when the weather is still good and the crowds have thinned out just a bit. New Orleans is a magnificent city and I have many locals whom I consider my “family”.
    I am hoping that I can find the peace I felt when I first arrived on your shores for my first visit in1998.

  • nolanative

    As a NOLA native, I’m not sure that we need to market our city any more than we already have. I LOVE doing all things NOLA, but have been growing weary of the old refrain “the more the merrier.” I would definitely like to see less quantity and greater quality. I was out this past weekend and those that I greeted couldn’t believe that they actually met a local. Why is it that they are only meeting visitors? It has become increasingly more difficult to drive and find parking in our favorite hunts due to the amount of visitors that are driving in or renting cars. There is no such thing as “locals’ day” at festivals. I don’t want to turn into one of the complainers, but leave us some aspects of our culture that don’t get crammed with selfies and people having loud conversations at the front of a music event. I love people that love our ways AND respect the musicians/wait staff and their fellow audience members.

  • Marquitos

    You elitist hipsters, including Ms. Ramsey, better be careful or else the commissar will come and take your Party card for being unsympathetic to the proletariat who occasionally come visit your fair city. If you want avoid the drunken louts stay off Bourbon St.
    I am always surprised by the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness of those want to pull up the draw bridge behind them. Be thankful you don’t live in Orlando.

    • janramsey

      On the contrary, elitist isn’t the right word. Or hipsters. Far from either.
      I’d rather deal with tourists like the ones who come in for the music festivals than people who come here to only to get drunk because they can’t do it on the street where they live. There’s a lot more to New Orleans than it being, hip, cool, laissez-faire and giving everyone a party card. We used to tell the people who came for those reasons to get the hell outta here because they didn’t “get it.” The day New Orleans becomes hip is the day it begins to die a slow death…talk about hipsters!

  • janramsey

    There has already been a response from the CVB and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, which will be published in the April issue of OffBeat. Personally, I have nothing against visitors: the people who read OffBeat outside of New Orlean are “tourists” but they are the kinds of people we want to visit here on a regular basis. The hospitality industry is one of the biggest economic contributors to the city’s economy, and it has eagerly marketed New Orleans to attract as many tourists as possible. That’s just good business. When you have a hotel to fill, a restaurant to run, a store to sell to tourists, you must get people into the city.

  • Jack D. Wilson

    How do you define “quality?” Could be a very slippery slope. People can travel anywhere they want in the United States.

    • janramsey

      Agreed.
      Obviously you can’t prevent anyone from visiting New Orleans, nor would you want to. But can we just slightly turn away from the “party city” to the “fun, culturally-aware city with great music and food”? Less booze and tits and ass; more music, food and festivals.

  • nolanativ2

    Oh my poor almost unrecognizable city! “Nolanative” below is so right. And “Wish NOLA was home” said it right-since Katrina it is surreal. I guess that it will never be the same. I didn’t think that I would EVER quit going to Jazz Fest but sadly, it is a zoo. Luckily there are still some haunts undiscovered and sometimes, rarely, we can still do what we do in peace. Everyone from here, please make sure your kids know what it was like when we were little and make them want to get it back. And you that moved here in droves after Katrina and act like you think you are a local, but want to change us into the same homogenous place that you came from, SHAME ON YOU! If you can’t do without your chain stores and your chain eateries why the hell did you come here, of all places? Even at Parkway, which is nothing like it was when I was a kid, a guy next to me ordered a meatball “sub” and worse, the order taker didn’t correct him. This is the kind of stuff that slowly is accepted and soon, all of the little idiosyncrises that made us different will all be gone. Even the way we talk.

  • Steve Susaneck

    In the words of Yogi Berra The place is so crowded that nobody goes there any more. We have been going to NO several times a year for a long time. We like going there so much that we bought a small place in the CBD and have become involved in the local arts. There have indeed been monumental changes in the city since the storm, some good and some bad. Tourism is a necessary evil for a city like NO, it always has and always will, but it doesnt have to change the fabric of the culture. Bourbon St. has always been what it is and always will be, like a previous post said just dont go there. The problem goes deeper that the quality of tourists that come here. It lies in the people that live here, The reason that people love NOLA is the charm, lifestyle of the city, there is no other place like it in the country. When that is lost and there is a Starbucks on every corner and NOLA become every town USA then the game is over. Dont let NOLA turn into Key West, just another stop on the Cruise.

    • janramsey

      Amen, Steve.
      The big question is how do we stop that from happening?
      I truly don’t believe that we understand what can be lost here. I had a discussion with some friends and we came to conclusion that it may be a problem with the fact that a huge influx of twenty- and early-thirty-somethings are moving to the city in droves. It’s the nature of this age demographic to be 1) self-absorbed; 2) in general, not have an appreciation for history (because they are the “future”); 3) arrogantly think they know everything..
      I’m not dissing, just stating facts. It’s reality. So how do educate them to understand how and why New Orleans needs to preserve its culture? How do we let them know that our history is relevant to the future? That a family-owned coffee house is far superior to the anonymity and homogeneity of a Starbucks? That our culture isn’t meant to be exploited purely for money?

      • geewhiz

        I think the impetus falls more upon the City Planners than the people moving to the city, regardless of their age or attitude. As Steve hit upon with the “when there is a Starbucks on every corner NOLA will become every town USA” I think New Orleans’ most important differentiating factor is its lack of homogeneity with the rest of the country when it comes to franchises and chains. The root of the charm of this city is the small business owners that run the local mom-and-pops, that actually give a damn about you as a customer personally. Since moving here after Katrina the most distressing development in this city is the development in this city. The new strip mall on Claiborne Avenue. City planners allowing large box stores within city limits will kill the uniqueness of NOLA quicker than a couple pretentious self-involved 20-something trust-fund hipsters will, who (I might add) are more likely to shop local than their less discerning counterparts.