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Like the old song says, happy days are here again — in New Orleans.
In 2012, the city saw 9 million visitors — a normal year’s tourist numbers hover around 8.5 million. Last year’s number is still not as high as 2004, however, when the city attracted 10 million visitors, a record number, and 2005 was on its way to breaking that record until Hurricane Katrina hit.
Still, reaching 9 million visitors seven years after the nation’s largest natural disaster is quite a coup, said Kelly Schulz, vice president of communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Even more impressive is the $6 billion those tourists spent.
“Last year, was very strong,” said Schulz. “The $6 billion was the highest ever for consumer spending.”
This year, New Orleans stands poised to at least keep up the trend, if not break last year’s record. Super Bowl XLVII opened the year, which coincided with an early Carnival season. Estimates show approximately 1 million people visited during Mardi Gras weekend.
The city has also been the recipient of numerous awards this year and last, including being named in the Top 25 Travelers’ Choice U.S. Destinations by TripAdvisor; a Top Summer Destination in the 2013 Gogobot Travelers’ Favorite Awards; receiving a silver nod in Favorite Big City Destination and gold for Favorite Culinary Destination by the National Tour Association; and rated number five in Top Trade Shows in the U.S. by Trade Show News Network. New Orleans is also one of the Top Seven U.S. Family Destinations for 2013 by ABC Travel Guides for Kids and Fodor’s editors placed New Orleans in the Top 25 Places to Go in 2013. TravelAge West also gave the city an Editor’s Pick nod in its WAVE Awards for Destination With the Highest Client Satisfaction, USA.
Another plus for the city came when the Louisiana Legislature approved an optional hotel assessment that could increase sales and marketing resources to the CVB and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation by 70 percent. Part of these funds will also help pay for infrastructure improvements to the French Quarter, Schulz explained.
“One of the struggles as a destination is finding marketing dollars,” Schulz said. “It’s really a game changer, to compete with the other cities.”
Upcoming plans for the city include a new airport terminal, expansion of the Convention Center and a Tricentennial Plan to organize the city’s anniversary in 2018.
“Our goal is to reach 13 million visitors by 2018, the city’s 300th birthday,” she said.