New Orleans’ tourism market is slowly returning, and leaders from across the city are working to return the city to its status as a major destination.

Mark Romig of New Orleans and Company explained this comeback will first be with the “drive market,” those within a 250-mile looking to get out of their towns for a quick trip without air travel. They are ramping up a fall campaign promoting safety and leisure travel, built on the idea that staying in a New Orleans hotel, rather than taking just a day trip, gives you the full hospitality experience.

Brigette Folse, Director of Sales and Marketing for Royal Sonesta New Orleans, says while leisure travelers are returning alongside a season of scaled-back weddings, the major meetings and conferences that once drew thousands are missing.

Brigette thinks of this challenge from the perspective of the event planner, and is reaching out and partnering with companies to begin delving into creative practices for hybrid meetings and conferences. She says maintaining safety expectations and branding cleanliness is key to returning people to hotels.

Most paramount to recovery is ensuring this safety, said Alana Harris, Deputy of Arts and Culture for the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy. “What we do now will impact what we are able to do in the future. Supporting initiatives like the gig-economy worker’s grants, and rental assistance funds is a big help to our cultural landscape,” Alana explained. 

The city has implemented Embrace the Culture, a virtual platform supporting creators in the community. This sets up a digital infrastructure for culture bearers to continue to practice safely in front of a global platform marketing them to future visitors.

While focusing on safety to draw in visitors is key for the city, it is important to also consider marketing to locals. Daniel Hammer, President and CEO of the Historic New Orleans Collection, says traditionally 65% of visitors to THNOC were regional tourists, out of town guests, 15% further away. During the pandemic THNOC pivoted their programming, and turned the assets of their catalog, including performances, lectures and film screenings into blogs, social media features and webinar programs. Over last five months, engagement with these programs has been approximate to the number of museum visitors they would have under normal circumstances.

“Our new challenge is how can we convert those engagements into visitors to the museum when we begin to be able to host on-site activities,” Hammer explained. Their marketing is now focused on bringing the local audience to the French Quarter, he said as THNOC reopened outdoor spaces and larger rooms and galleries to a slow trickle of visitors. 

Alana encourages everyone to support the artists and musicians who have kept the culture not only by visiting our local attractions as they reopen, but tipping culture bearers and giving them a seat at the table to not just at the party but where decisions are being made. She said, “Continue to stimulate, create, and preserve the culture virtually and digitally, keep ourselves safe so that we can all be together soon.” 

By Olivia Morgan, Fund Development Coordinator at Culture Aid Nola.