What makes New Orleans tick? Where are the best places to eat around the convention center? Where's the best place for some late-night drinks? Cable industry executives and leaders heading down to New Orleans for Cable Connect 2010 can learn a lot about what to see and do in the Big Easy by taking some tips from Jennifer Day, director of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. She spoke with Multichannel News contributor David Tanklefsky. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: Is New Orleans back to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels of tourism?
Jennifer Day: In 2004, we experienced an unusual banner year, welcoming 10.1 million visitors to the city. Our normal average was closer to 8.5 [million].
In 2009, we had 7.5 million, but this can be somewhat connected to the recession, which has affected travel across the globe. So we're very proud of the progress we've made. For 2010, according to Smith Travel Research, New Orleans has been among the top three cities for REVPAR, otherwise known as hotel performance growth, which is an industry indicator for performance and success. So we are obviously excited about that. We're seeing the hard work of the past five years materialize and that feels great!
MCN: Is there a difference in attitude you sense when tourists come to visit New Orleans in the past five years?
JD: Visitors can feel the buzz in the air. New Orleans, post-storm, has an energy about it. We here love our city desperately and for the past five years, we've been working relentlessly to create a stronger New Orleans. We're proud of the results and that vibe is contagious. Many visitors do comment that they feel they are helping rebuild New Orleans via their visit. I'm not sure how many other destinations bring out that sentiment of collaboration and community in visitors.
MCN: What is it about the city that creates that sense of revitalization?
JD: When you live in one of the most creative, historic cities in the country and something so devastating happens and literally you are legally barred from returning home - they had a mandatory evacuation of the city after the storm - and when you're sitting on a couch in New York, or Chicago or San Diego and you can't go home, you realize that you can't just go to another community and have the same quality of life or experience. We realized that we were taking one of the great cities of the world for granted. When people were finally able to come home, we were hungry and we were scared. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. We support our community. When we go out to eat, there's this sense of community and participation here that you don't see in other communities and the visitors feel that. And a lot of visitors have commented to me that they feel that they are New Orlineans. Post-Katrina, we almost lost these things that were dear to us and we'll be darned if we're gonna let them fade into the history books, and we're alive and well, and we want to share it and preserve it.
MCN: What kinds of cultural attractions might you suggest for Cable Connection-Fall attendees staying in and around the Central Business and Garden districts? Any new, up-and-coming restaurants or concert venues they might be interested in checking out?
JD: The St. Charles Streetcar Line - $1.25 per ride, an amazing way to explore the city's most notable avenue. Frenchmen Street is the local's version of Bourbon Street. There's the entertainment district of about a dozen bars, featuring jazz, blues, rock - complete with swing dancers and brass bands and street-food vendors. It's a must-see. New Orleans is home to 1,117 restaurants currently - a new city record - and there's something for every taste and budget. I love the new small plate/jazz joint on Frenchmen called Three Muses. Great food and music. Davenport Lounge is a cozy spot nestled in The Ritz-Carlton Hotel. If you're in the Garden District, the legendary Commander's Palace is a must.
MCN: For those interested in networking, are there any after-hours or intimate restaurants or bars around the convention center they might want to check out?
JD: Loa in the International House Hotel is a professionals' favorite. Other's include 7 on Fulton, Swizzle Stick Bar, Grand Isle Restaurant, and Tommy's Cuisine.
MCN: For any cable-industry people who might have their family in town, what might you suggest they look into?
JD: For families, one of the most popular attractions would be the Audobon Institute. There's the Aquarium, which is very close to the convention center. There's the Insectarium, which is within walking distance of the convention center. You can touch insects, you learn about butterflies and cockroaches and there is a café where you can sample food that's got insects in it, which isn't really up my alley, but kids are adventurous. They prepare chocolate-covered grasshoppers!
MCN: The city recently announced that the Essence Music Festival will stay in New Orleans for at least the next four years. Outside of perennial favorites like Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, what other events are you looking forward to in 2011?
JD: French Quarter Festival, which is a very popular festival similar to JazzFest, but with a more localized talent pool. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, Tales of the Cocktail, and Prospect 2, which is the U.S.'s only international art biennial.
MCN: Has a Super Bowl champion football team noticeably spiked tourism?
JD: It has definitely made a difference. As the season progressed and the games led up to the Super Bowl win, there was just an energy building in the city that even when the team wasn't at home, people were still flocking to the city. Even though the game was in Miami, we said, "the game is in Miami, but the party is in New Orleans."
All those positive images were inundated in the media. The sentiment here was, we were finally turning that Katrina page. Upon the Super Bowl win, there was a new dominant image out there in the media. We attribute a lot of the momentum we've achieved to that. In 2010, we're set to have our best year since the storm and we feel the positive images and the energy that the Super Bowl win has brought to the city has definitely helped with that.
MCN: How important is tourism to the redevelopment of New Orleans? How much does the city look to tourism to help underwrite some of the bigger development projects coming up?
JD: Tourism is the city's core industry. It is a $5 billion industry for the city and accounts for $200 to $225 million dollars in tax revenues for the City of New Orleans. The industry employs some 70,000 locals. Tourism is fundamental to the continued growth and success of New Orleans.