NEW ORLEANS — Visitor numbers to New Orleans returned to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels for the first time in March. The number of meetings and convention visitors to the city reached 83,000, 10,000 more than the March prior to the hurricane in August 2005.
The city is launching a new $5 million advertising campaign designed to lure travelers back to the “Crescent City,” and a new Internet marketing strategy is being created. Another publicity boost is that power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently bought an eight-bedroom house in New Orleans. Pitt has just completed filming “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in the city. Co-starring Cate Blanchett and with a budget of $150 million, it is the most expensive film to have been shot in the city.
A new city-assisted evacuation plan was completed recently, giving the city’s mayor powers to order a mandatory evacuation 30 hours before hurricane winds begin. More than $1 billion in public money is being put forward to attract private investment in rebuilding work across 17 redevelopment zones. While many outlying neighborhoods were left devastated by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, tourist areas such as the famous French Quarter and the Warehouse Arts District were largely untouched.
As hotels, restaurants, and bars suffered a post-Katrina visitor slump, many spent time improving their facilities, according to Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A lot of hotels took business disruption insurance and upgraded, as a result we have the freshest hotel product in 20 years,” he said. “The tourism industry and cultural economy has led the recovery, that is the heart and soul of the city, and yet internationally there is not the awareness of the positive recovery.”
Yet, despite the successes, the city's convention and visitors bureau is still dealing with cancellations and the perception that the city is unsafe for meetings.
For example, the Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association cancelled its November 2009 convention at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. According to an article in The Times-Picayune, the association cited the city's crime rate and its problems recovering from Hurricane Katrina as the reasons for canceling.
This bit of bad news comes right after the city successfully hosted two major conventions: the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society, which brought close to 25,000 delegates to the city in February, and the American College of Cardiology, which brought 30,000 people to New Orleans in March.
Later this month, the city hosts 30,000 delegates from the Risk and Insurance Management Society.
Sources: TravelMole.com & MeetingsNet.com