20101020-news-0102Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Acadiana tourism directors hope nearly half a million dollars in BP cash is coming our way.
By Hope Rurik


The BP spill and the drilling moratorium that resulted from it conspired with Louisiana’s already suffering economy to hit Acadiana and the surrounding area where it really hurts: tourism. Reports show that spending in Louisiana’s $8.3 billion tourism industry dropped 65 percent after the spill. Only a small slice of the $15 million BP committed to help the state rehabilitate its image remains unspent, and half a million of that could be coming to Acadiana.


20101020-news-0102Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Acadiana tourism directors hope nearly half a million dollars in BP cash is coming our way.
By Hope Rurik


The BP spill and the drilling moratorium that resulted from it conspired with Louisiana’s already suffering economy to hit Acadiana and the surrounding area where it really hurts: tourism. Reports show that spending in Louisiana’s $8.3 billion tourism industry dropped 65 percent after the spill. Only a small slice of the $15 million BP committed to help the state rehabilitate its image remains unspent, and half a million of that could be coming to Acadiana.

“We had the perfect storm where you have travel down, the moratorium has discouraged business travelers from coming to south Louisiana, and the seafood has been considered of bad quality to eat, which is totally wrong, and we had to counteract a whole bunch of things at one time,” says Gerald Breaux, executive director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission.

In June, the Louisiana Office of Tourism received $15 million from BP for tourism recovery. The New Orleans area and the Louisiana Tourism Coastal Coalition (Calcasieu/Cameron, Iberia, Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Terrebonne and Vermillion) each received $5 million of those funds. The remaining $5 million was devoted to a state marketing campaign:
• $2 million - Nationwide advertising campaign and public relations campaign to mitigate damages
• $1 million - Louisiana Educational Television Authority, appropriated by the Louisiana Legislature.
• $400,000 - Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, appropriated by the Legislature.
• $600,000 - Tourism research and discretionary grants
• $1 million - Competitive grants for recovery efforts

The $1 million in competitive grants is the only chunk of the original sum that has not been spent, and Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle’s office is running three weeks behind schedule with the allocation of that fund.

One of the groups waiting on an announcement from Angelle’s office is the Acadiana Coalition, a team effort between Lafayette, Acadia, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes. Marion Fox, executive director of the Jefferson Davis Parish Tourism and Economic Development Commission, penned a $492,000 grant for the coalition that, if accepted, will fund initiatives to get folks back to the “Sportsman’s Paradise.”

The overall concept behind the coalition’s proposal is to brand Lafayette as the hub for fresh-water seafood and outdoor activities with the other parishes as the spokes.

“We’re the feeder parishes,” says Fox. “We put together a plan where we could increase tourism to our parishes and also funnel them to the rural and coastal parishes.”

Breaux says the coalition divided its grant proposal by projects, so even if reviewers choose not to grant the whole amount, they can choose to fund specific projects. “It’s up to the reviewers to come up with what they think could and should be spent,” he says.

The coalition’s first project is a local, regional and national Eat Acadiana campaign to get people into local restaurants within their parishes.

In May, they will host the Central States Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers.

“At that time we’re going to have 50 to 60 travel writers in Louisiana from Texas to Michigan to Minnesota. Those writers will come to see with their own eyes that everything is working, the infrastructure’s there, tourism’s strong,” Breaux says. He is hopeful they will eat Louisiana seafood and return home to tell a story that Louisiana is very open for business, dispelling some of the misinformation in the national news. “If they tell those stories, it will have a bigger impact than an ad in People magazine or Southern Living or anything else. Ads can only say what we want them to say, and you can’t tell a travel writer what to say. You can only give them the facts and say, ‘Eat that shrimp and see if it’s good,’ or, ‘Try that catfish.’”

The coalition plans to use funds to draw other outdoor, travel and culinary writers to the state based on the same rationale of hosting the Society of American Travel Writers, and it intends on executing a “media blitz” in Chicago. Breaux says it performed a similar action in New York with favorable results and believes Chicago is the next logical step to get the central states to travel to Louisiana.

Back at the state level, Angelle is seeking an additional $75 million from BP to continue reviving the tourism industry. However, there’s no word on exactly what projects that money will fund.

“I don’t think there’s a set plan,” says Breaux. “They’re probably going to use social media, electronic media and as many things as they can because $75 million is a nice amount of money. “

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