If the Big Easy can bounce back from tourism woes, so can the Emerald Coast
New Orleans tourism official says local lodgings will field questions about the BP oil spill for years
SANDESTIN — The BP oil spill was devastating to the tourism business, both locally and regionally.
Many reservations were canceled and the national media aired a multitude of reports about oil-covered beaches and animals.
But as bad as it was here, Jennifer Day has seen much worse.
Day, director of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Walton County Tourist Development Council’s 2010 annual meeting.
“I know you all have been going through a rough time, but I’m here to tell you that if New Orleans can weather the largest man-made disaster in history, the recession and stand alongside you in this BP oil spill … so can you,” Day told the crowd at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa. “Let me tell you, New Orleans is back. New Orleans is stronger than it’s been in years.
“You all are going to be OK,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy or fun, but I have faith.”
Day called Hurricane Katrina the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history, considering the failure of the city’s levees. More than 1,800 people died, and damage to buildings and infrastructure totaled billions of dollars.
Before the hurricane, New Orleans averaged about 8.5 million visitors annually. It was the backbone of the city’s economy, with an economic impact of $5 billion a year. Following Katrina, the number of visitors dropped to 3.7 million in 2006.
About two years after the hurricane, Day’s office started an aggressive marketing program to bring back tourists.
“For 2010, New Orleans is having the best year we’ve had since the storm,” Day said. “We won the bid for Super Bowl 2013, which is amazing. We’ve had record-breaking festival attendance in 2010.”
Five years after Katrina, Day said she is still answering questions about the city’s recovery. She said lodging properties and tourist agencies along the Emerald Coast should expect the same about the BP spill.
Despite that, Day said she believes the area will make a similar comeback from the spill next year.
“I know you all are exhausted, but you have the tools and resources and honestly, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Day said. “When the oil spill hit, New Orleans didn’t drop a beat. (It was) game on, because we’re not going to let that stop us.”
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