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Misconceptions and impact of oil spill on the Tourism Industry in New Orleans

New Orleans tackles tourists’ oil spill misperceptions

July 15th, 2010

New Orleans has a new ad campaign to convey it’s party-as-usual there….

New Orleans tackles tourists’ oil spill misperceptions

By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY

Now — just when N.O. is getting back on its feet — some potential visitors think the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is swirling nearby, and that’s dead wrong, says Kelly Schulz, vice president of PR for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We’re inland” from the Gulf of Mexico, she says, and not directly affected by the spill. Nevertheless, “tourism is an image-driven business,” she told me during a meeting today. “Some people think we have beaches, and CNN is broadcasting from New Orleans, so that is confusing.” So far, she says, there’s no wave of cancellations, but lots of calls inquiring about the spill. Some ask if you can smell oil in the city (you can’t, she says). It’s true that Gulf oysters are in short supply, but the city is importing the bivalves from elsewhere.

Schulz is out doing damage control, and the city has launched print and TV ads (using $5 million from BP oil company to assuage damage) that tell people The Big Easy is still letting the good times roll. “Things in New Orleans are NORMAL. Well, OUR normal,” one print ad with a couple sipping cocktails on the street reads, alluding to the city’s rowdy, party-hearty image.

New Orleans was on a roll last year with about 7.5 million visitors — about a million less than its record of 8.5 million pre-Katrina. The Saints won the Super Bowl this year, and the city reaped an image benefit from that, says Schulz, a sunny blonde wearing a rosy blazer and fleur-de-lis earrings in homage to New Orleans’ French heritage. She says the expanded World War II Museum is doing good business and the big Hyatt hotel slammed by Katrina is being redone in even more lavish style and is due to reopen in 2011.

Now, “we want to acknowledge what a tragedy (the oil spill is), but we don’t want it to be made worse” by damaging the city’s $5 billion tourism industry — its No. 1 source of revenue. New Orleans has had so much bad luck, she says. And as the fifth anniversary of Katrina approaches, it needs a break

Readers, are you less or more likely to visit N.O. because of the oil spill? Have you been down since Katrina ,and is it what it used to be?