2012 visitor numbers boost New Orleans' confidence

By Johanna Jainchill

New Orleans French Quarter CarriageLast year, New Orleans attracted more visitors than it has in almost a decade.

More than 9 million people visited the Crescent City in 2012, spending a record $6 billion, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), whose work in promoting the city has been credited with helping achieve these numbers.

"The continued growth of both visitor numbers and spending is a reflection of the hard work of our hospitality industry," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. "I feel confident that we will continue the upward trajectory as we work toward the goal of welcoming 13 million visitors by 2018."

The recent data, part of the 2012 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile study completed for the CVB and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., indicates that there are more opportunities for travel professionals to sell New Orleans than ever before.

Three percent more tourists descended upon the city in 2012 than in 2011, spending 9% more than they did the year prior.

Only record-breaking 2004, when 10.1 million people visited New Orleans, proved better in terms of visitor numbers. Owing to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, those numbers plummeted in 2006 to 3.7 million visitors, who spent just $2.8 billion.

Boding well for New Orleans' future, the recent study found that almost half of the respondents (49.9%) plan to return or recommend New Orleans to others. In 2012, 58.9% of tourists were repeat visitors, while 41.1% were in town for the first time.

Breaking down the spending numbers, lodging saw a 17% increase; restaurants, 9%; nightlife, 10.4%; and entertainment and recreation, 9%.

New Orleans continues to predominantly be a leisure destination, with 76.1% of the visitors there for vacation/pleasure; 13.8% in town for an association, convention, trade show or corporate meeting; and 10.1% for general business.

Of those business travelers, 58% extended their stay for an average of 2.1 nights.

Cruise visitors also tend to add pre- or post-stays in New Orleans, with the average passenger adding two nights in the Big Easy.

The study also found that the average New Orleans tourist is wealthier than before; the proportion of visitors with income of $100,000 to $149,999 was 22.3%, and 17.2% reported a household income of $150,000 or more.

"Reaching a milestone of 9 million visitors in 2012 during a tough national economy reinforces that tourism does not just happen on its own," stated Stephen Perry, CEO of the CVB. "It takes aggressive, cutting-edge sales and marketing strategies."

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw. 

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