Domestic visitors spur Lousiana tourism growth


BATON ROUGE, La. -- For Louisiana, 1999 was a big tourism year with FrancoFete, a yearlong celebration of special events, activities and promotions commemorating the 300th anniversary of French settlement.

However, if U.S. visitors for the first half of 2000 are any indication, that year's arrival numbers will outstrip those of 1999.

With momentum increasing, the state also targeted its major markets with an increased advertising budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

In 1999, Louisiana had 24.6 million U.S. visitors, a 4% increase compared with 1998; for the first half of 2000, the increase was a dramatic 10%, according to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, citing Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) figures.

"Growth has continued, but we never realized it would continue as strong as this. There is no doubt we are feeling the strong momentum created by FrancoFete," said Phillip Jones, department secretary.

"Arrivals for the first quarter were up, but for the second quarter they were up considerably," he said.

After FrancoFete, in early 2000 Louisiana began a three-year promotion with music as its main marketing theme, with the tag line, "Follow the Music to Louisiana."

"This will take us up to 2003, and a buildup for the [anniversary of the] Louisiana Purchase [signed Dec. 20, 1803]," he said.

A yearlong promotion celebrating the purchase, beginning January 2003, is planned.

Jones said that although 1999's 4% increase in U.S. visitors might not seem significant, it is when considering that total travel within the U.S. rose less than 1%.

For the five years from 1995 to 1999, the state's U.S. visitors increased 17.6% compared with a 7.7% national increase, he added, citing TIA statistics.

In 1999, Louisiana had approximately 700,000 foreign visitors, a number that was flat with the previous year.

No international figures are available for 2000 except for Canada, the fastest-growing foreign market.

Canadian visitors totaled 104,000 in 1999, a 65% increase compared with 1998; for the first six months of 2000, they totaled 71,800, up 33%.

Jones attributes the growth to Louisiana's high profile in the past several years at the International Montreal Jazz Festival and an increase in flights to New Orleans from Canada.

For this fiscal year, the state's total tourism budget increased to $9 million from $8.5 million, and its advertising budget went from $5.7 million to $6.4 million.

Jones noted that for FrancoFete, the state appropriated an extra $1 million, but the money mainly went to special events and promotions and was not part of the overall marketing budget.

With this fiscal year's increase, the department has more than doubled the number of its major target markets, in which it advertises on cable channels and in consumer magazines.

In the past, it has targeted five markets: Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Mobile, Ala., and Jackson, Miss. This fiscal year, it has added seven more: Nashville; Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Tucson, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M.

"We're going aggressively after new visitors," said Jones, adding that several of the seven new cities that show the most promise will be added to the target markets in future years.

Other Louisiana promotional efforts include:

  • A total of $1 million invested in "Jazz," the Ken Burns documentary series airing on PBS this month.
  • The Audubon Golf Trail, a golf promotion with five to eight golf courses participating. The trail, with a state annual marketing budget of $1 million a year, will be ready in the fall.
  • A Civil War trail, which is in the early planning stages and for which funding will be sought from the legislature.
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