The Big Easy continued to have an easier time of it last year, as it was able to continue its post-Katrina rebound in travel and tourism arrivals and revenue despite the dreary national economic trends that started gaining momentum last fall.
A study recently released by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center found that the number of visitors to New Orleans increased to 7.6 million in 2008, up from 7.1 million in 2007, with spending levels rising to $5.1 billion from $4.8 billion over the same period. The average stay for overnight guests increased to 4.6 nights in 2008, from 3.8 in 2007.
"It is encouraging that our aggressive sales, marketing, public relations, branding and advocacy work has resulted in increased visitor spending and annual visitor numbers that are closer to pre-Katrina levels of 8.5 million," J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in a statement.
But while the popular destination appears to be holding steady, officials at the New Orleans CVB remain cautious in their projections for 2009.
"If our numbers for Mardi Gras and last week's French Quarter Festival are any indication ... then that's a good sign," said Director of Communications and Public Relations Mary Beth Romig, noting that 441,000 people attended the three-day French Quarter event (see related report, "French Quarter celebration ends on high note."). "We seem to be bucking a lot of the national trends in how we're faring."
Still in business
The UNO study also showed that the proportion of business visitors who extended their stay for pleasure remained exactly the same, with an average extension of two nights.
However, Romig pointed to a decrease in projected attendance at conventions in the Crescent City as a stronger indicator of the widespread economic downturn.
She said that while the number of conventions booked for June and July has been "abnormally good ... attendance is tracking a little lower than projected by the convention sponsors."
For his part, Perry noted that the national environment for both leisure and business travel remains unpredictable.
"We must continue our work to secure funding for marketing and promotion, help build attendance for meetings and conventions and create compelling reasons for visitors to choose New Orleans," he noted in the statement.
Nearly 91% of visitors questioned in the UNO study indicated that they would be likely or very likely to recommend New Orleans as a destination to family and friends. "We can pretty much look at New Orleans right now and know it's not a question of whether or not we're ready," said Perry. "We believe it's the economy."
Other facts revealed by the report illuminate the average amount spent by visitors to New Orleans: Vacationers and leisure travelers spent an average of $598 per trip, or about $165 per day, while convention and trade show attendees spent an average of $940 per trip, or $210 per day.
The study results were gleaned using data from Smith Travel Research and are culled from 7,235 "observations of visitation" to New Orleans, along with an additional survey of area hoteliers.