[Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash]

Checking in on the State of Tourism in Louisiana

07:00 March 26, 2024
By: Emily Hingle

State of the State of Louisiana

Since the 1800s, railroads allowed for easy travel over long distances like never been in history. That helped New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to become popular tourist destinations.

The state is known for lavish landscapes, rich history and culture, and lots of merry-making unlike many other destinations, and it appeals to people from the world over who can't resist experiencing this place in real life. The leisure and hospitality industry ranks as the fourth highest employer in Louisiana, which is testament to how popular Louisiana is for travelers.

Tourism hit a peak in 2019 as 53.2 million people visited the state, which was the eighth consecutive year of increasing tourism. 2020 saw a major shift in tourism worldwide, but people have been traveling at increasing rates since then. The Louisiana Office of the Lieutenant Governor published in May 2023 that "Louisiana saw 1.56 million more domestic and international visitors in 2022, attracting 42.6 million travelers, a 3.8% increase over 2021." Those travelers generated $17.1 billion in domestic and international spending in 2022, according to the press release.

Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser stated, "It's heartening to see these ongoing increases in visitation to Louisiana. Many forecasts by national tourism research showed post-pandemic improvement would not come until 2024 or 2025. We know we are on the right track to returning to record-breaking visitor numbers." New Orleans alone is set to host numerous large-scale events, including the Pastry World Cup and Bocuse D'or in 2024, the Super Bowl in 2025, and the U.S. Travel Association's IPW in 2027."

"We're in a good place," Assistant Secretary of Tourism Doug Bourgeois said. "COVID took a tremendous hit on not only visitors coming but also people in the hospitality industry. Flights are coming back; that's number one. Jobs are coming back, hotels are fully open again, and restaurants are doing well. I think we're in a really, really good place for the first time."

[Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash]

While the city of New Orleans remains a hot spot for tourists who come in search of legendary cuisine, strong drinks, and entertainment that lasts all night long, an unexpected trend in the last few years saw more visitors going beyond the New Orleans metro area and exploring more rural areas of the state. Even Louisiana citizens seem to be discovering parts of the state that they haven't visited before. Bourgeois explained, "Places like Toledo Bend saw record increases in tourism and places like the Kisatchie National Forest were seeing more tourists than ever. I think people started traveling the state and seeing all the great things that we have. We've seen our own people rediscover all the great treasures we have across the state. I think people were looking for places that they could get away in the outdoors, and when they discovered the wonderful places, they kept going back."

The charter boat industry is one reason that tourists have proliferated statewide as it affords travelers the opportunity to catch big game in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as freshwater bayous and lakes, and fishing licenses are a funding mechanism for the state. Director of Communications of the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Jennifer Berthelot explained, "Fishing is definitely a hugely popular pastime in Louisiana. Toledo Bend had record tourism that was part of the outdoor exploration increase post pandemic. That's partially because they're such a popular fishing destination. They've been named one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country multiple times over the years."

In order to entice more fishermen to Louisiana waters, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries instituted Louisiana Catch and Cook, in which fishermen and alligator hunters can bring their catch to participating restaurants to be cooked for them. New Orleans restaurants including Red Fish Grill and Bourbon House will glady prepare a cleaned, iced catch when fishermen make a reservation for Catch and Cook ahead of time. Be prepared to show your fishing license upon delivery of the catch. Bourgeois commented, "It completes the circle of great outdoors and great food. We've always been Sportsman's Paradise. It's one of the pillars of what we really market in the state of Louisiana."

The Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism has also dabbled in gamification to get people out and about, especially by driving around the state. Currently, citizens and tourists alike can take part in the Libations Trail and Film Trail to win prizes after they check-in to certain sites. "We get the ability to build out these digital passes where we set different goals as far as how many check-ins you get, and you get various prizes as you progress. For our Libations Trail, we include distilleries, breweries, and wineries," Berthelot explained.

The app-based Trails lead the user to various historical sites or businesses in order to educate people about the places they're visiting. The Louisiana Film Trail Pass includes sites that were used in films and shows including American Horror Story, Green Book, Interview With The Vampire, and Long, Hot Summer. Bourgeois continued, "Even though Where The Crawdads Sing is not about Louisiana, it was all filmed here. So people are going to see all these beautiful images of Louisiana in this movie. That's really been a new thing that's been impacting how people travel. They see it in a movie, and they want to go there and be a part of it."

Louisiana is on track to regain the pre-pandemic record number of tourists and set new records for number of visitors and tourist dollars spent in the next few years. Those who have spent their entire life within their home state can find things they never knew existed by visiting ExploreLouisiana.com. Now is the time to be a tourist in your own backyard.

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