In our Page 1 story last week
about some of the challenges facing Mardi Gras organizers [Lawsuit threatens to rain on Mardi Gras
parade, Jan. 3, 2006], Kim Priez, vice president of
tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB),
lamented the fact that travel agents (among others) are still
seeing rebroadcasts of post-hurricane footage showing water in the
streets of her city.
There are not
enough marketing dollars in the world to counter those kinds of
lingering images, she said.
But its not just
the reruns of post-Katrina imagery on news programs that the public
is seeing. Comedy Central, arguably the least sober media outlet on
the planet, continues to run public service announcements reminding
viewers that the crisis spawned by Katrina is not over yet and
urging viewers go to to its Web site and donate.
If Comedy Central
-- which conceivably could show the PSA between promos for Girls
Gone Wild videos and ads for hangover cures -- is sending a message
this somber about New Orleans, the NOCVB is right to worry about
whether Mardi Gras can be marketed effectively.
I accept the NOCVBs
assertion that the city has enough hotel rooms and security to hold
a successful, if scaled-down, Mardi Gras. On the surface, the
bureau, confident of its ability to deliver a positive tourism
experience, appears to be in a battle against an ethereal enemy:
But there is
another dimension to the bureaus problems that is more delicate to
explore. Following the hurricane, a spotlight of global intensity
was focused on New Orleans racial and economic
these divisions are among the topics that Americans know exist, but
which, as a rule, they prefer not to dwell upon.
national consciousness may well have moved on to another topic
except that some New Orleans residents are reluctant to let this
particular spotlight turn away. They are complaining -- loudly --
that its disrespectful to victims of Katrina, and insensitive to
those living in poverty in New Orleans, to hold a party like Mardi
Gras this year. (A lawsuit was filed by a member of one of the
best-known krewes to prevent his group from marching in the
Economic and racial
divisions in New Orleans have existed -- coexisted, actually --
side by side with a thriving tourism industry for as long as there
has been a tourism industry in that city.
And New Orleans is
hardly unique in its juxtaposition of tourist attractions and
poverty. Look at Acapulco. Rio.
As an industry,
tourism establishes itself wherever there is beauty, culture or
unique experiences. New Orleans offers all three. Tourism has never
limited itself to areas free from political and economic problems.
To the contrary, it has made arguments that travel broadens
exposure to controversial issues and can help bring about
I dont blame those
who seek to use Mardi Gras as a platform to call attention to their
needs. But if they were to actually succeed in stopping or
diminishing Mardi Gras, it would be the most hollow sort of
victory. Mardi Gras in 2006 has the potential to boost the citys
economy and morale and could be a symbolic turning point for a city
beset by setbacks.
Holding Mardi Gras
this year is no more a sign of disrespect to those who have
suffered in Katrinas wake or who live in poverty than playing jazz
in a funeral procession is a sign of disrespect to the dead or the
If pre-Katrina New
Orleans taught the world anything, it is that its possible to
celebrate in the face of adversity. And that, sometimes, its