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On Tour

Interview with Mark Romig on the Direction of Tourism, Looking Back on 2013 and Towards 2014



With a 2018 Super Bowl bid and a marked increase in visitors, New Orleans’ tourism market has grown exponentially in the years following The Storm. President and CEO of New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation Mark Romig reviews the year 2013, and discusses the city’s goals moving forward in terms of demographics, numbers and impact mitigation for locals.

 

Dollars

According to data from the UNO Hospitality Research Center, New Orleans pulled in $3.74 billion tourism dollars from the beginning of January to the end of June, 2013. That number reflects direct spending, estimated based on visitors’ own surveys.

 

Visitation was up two percent in 2013 from 2012, with 5.039 million visitors, a combination of “day trippers” and overnight stays, according to Romig.

 

There are currently 78,000 employed in the hospitality industry, and 21,000 hotel rooms in the downtown core.

 

“My sense is that there were jobs increased by 2012 to 2013 by a couple thousand. Visitor spending spins off of more job creation,” said Romig.

 

The Market

Romig sought to clear up notions that tourism officials are actively trying to bring more college kids, armed with hand-grenades, into the city.

 

“There’s been an urban myth that a large portion of our marketing message is geared towards this girls and boys gone wild type of audience,” Romig said. “Less than 10 percent of our media mix, Buzzfeed, Flavor Pill, hits an age group of 18-24 years,” Romig explained.

 

In fact, the “sweet spot” for tourism is 35-65, Romig said. Mature visitors generally have more money and more “discretionary time.”   

 

While there is always room for improvement, Romig said that weekends have a strong showing. Older markets, especially 65 and up, could increase the number of stays that last through the week, explained the tourism expert. 

 

“The weekends are really well handled. It’s the mid-week and the early week where we’d like to affect more occupancy,” said Romig. “The longer the visitor stays, the more money they’re going to spend,” Romig noted.

 

Tourism has evolved into its own pseudo-science, and Romig threw out the term "psychographically" when discussing how NOTMC plots their advertising campaigns.

 

"We don't silo our media buys into age groups--we're buying psychographically. We are matching what attributes New Orleans provides the traveler--history, music, food--to the experiential traveler. You'll find that discoverer in all age groups," said Romig.

 

 

Looking Forward

In order to build the existing industry, Romig said the first step is to “turbo charge the river.”

 

“[We can] elevate or enhance the river as an experience,” said Romig, adding that the first time the Mississippi became a tourism destination was the Louisiana World Exposition of 1984.

 

Romig said that the French Quarter speaks for itself as a tourist hot spot, which is why NOTMC avoids the Vieux Carre in their most recent campaigns.

 

“They’re going to the French Quarter [already]. 85-90 percent list the French Quarter as part of their visit. If you look at our most recent marketing, there’s not a carriage or a balcony scene,” he said.

 

With the market growing beyond the bounds of Canal and N. Rampart, Romig highlighted a few key areas that NOTMC will focus on in the coming year.

 

The Follow Your NOLA ad campaign includes an interactive compass of the city. Romig highlighted the tool as one way to get visitors to expand their trips outside of the Vieux Carre, with destinations on NOTMC's map from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi.

 

“When we are able to introduce and message the Bywater, Magazine Street, even the Lakefront and Mid-City as places for you to enjoy and spend money,” said Romig. “[We can] give those retailers a piece of the action."

 

 

Critics

Romig said that the first step to balancing visitor fun with residents’ needs is communication.

 

“We need to hear and communicate and listen, to be a part of the conversation,” said Romig. “A lot of the retailers rely on visitors’ spending. The flow of dollars that helps spin off tax dollars that go to our city treasury and our state treasury is part of our normal economic wheel,” said Romig.

 

The director noted that the tourism industry is largely responsible for recent downtown street and infrastructure improvements.

 

“We know it’s not a perfect world, but I could not imagine the city without the flow of money coming from the visitors.”  

 

2014

 

Romig said that the NBA All Star Game in February and the WWE Wrestlemania in April are two tourism events particular to 2014, in addition to mainstays such as Carnival, Jazz Fest and Essence. 

 

"We're going to start seeing some things come together in 2014. There will be some form of a commission formed, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans is coming up in 2015," said Romig. "These special events are important."

 

Correction, December 31, 2013, 4:32 p.m.: Mark Romig is the President and CEO of NOTMC. An earlier version of this article listed Romig as the Director. 

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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Michael Weber, B.A.

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