Wednesday, 23 April 2014 15:32

Mark Romig interview: Great news for New Orleans Tourism, Hospitality

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frenchquarterfestivalToday, NOTMC (New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation) sent out a press release with good news about the tourism and hospitality industry in New Orleans. In 2013, 9.28 million visitors came to New Orleans, a 3% increase from 2012. The visitors spent $6.47 billion, a 4.5% increase from the dollars spent in 2012.

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 The numbers are not yet at the level they were the year before Katrina, when 10.1 million people visited the city. However, considering that only 3.7 million people visited in 2006, the numbers display a great positive development. The survey, conducted by the University of New Orleans Research Center for CVB (New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s  Bureau) and NOTMC, also shows that 75% of the visitor respondents provided positive feedback about the city; almost half of the respondents said that they planned to return or recommend New Orleans to other people.

Yesterday, Stephen Sabludowsky interviewed Mark Romig, President and CEO of NOTMC about these terrific numbers. Below is a transcription and video of the interview, as well as a copy of the full press release.

Sabludowsky: Today, we have a terrific guest. Mark Romig is President and CEO of NOTMC, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. We heard some really terrific news today. We had over 9.2 million visitors this year. It's a 3% increase from last year.

Romig: That's right. Roughly 270,000 more people came to this city. They spent 6.47 billion dollars, which is a 4.5% increase from the amount spent in 2012. The University of New Orleans conducted the survey.

Sabludowsky: That's terrific. I read a press release. It's not the highest number in terms of number of tourists. That happened the year before Hurricane Katrina.

Romig: That's right. We were on course to go over 10.5 million visitors right before Katrina hit New Orleans. Interestingly, even with less people, we have a higher spending now. That says a number of things, we believe. One, visitors are staying longer and they are spending more money. Obviously, the value of the dollar has changed. However, we have many more attractions. We have our restaurants, and we have a great hotel inventory. It's the dollars being spent that are really driving the economy and helping us sustain the jobs. We have 78,000 jobs relying on the hospitality industry here in New Orleans.

Sabludowsky: I would also assume that the tourism dollars spent is producing a result.

Romig: Yes, it's producing many things. The dollars being spent in restaurants and hotels, as well as attractions, sustain jobs attached to those locations. Also, people are taking home their salaries and spend them on groceries, rent, and tuition if they have children. The dollars are being utilized in many ways. If you combine the dollars spent out of wallet with what the economic impact is, we're talking billions and billions of dollars, not only in Orleans parish, but also in the region. Again, we are driving the economy, supporting jobs, and helping to grow the community's vitality by having a very healthy tourism economy. I believe these numbers show that.

Sabludowsky: Absolutely. Thinking back to post-Katrina, many of us wondered whether or not the city could ever come back. Now, in terms of dollars, we're certainly back. We're at the doorstep in terms of the total gross number of tourists. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Romig: That's a good point. I think it speaks very well to the plan that the hospitality industry, under the direction of then Lt. Gov, now Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, put together. They came together and said: "We really need to fix this and make it even better. Let's put our heads together and realize that we have some things we got to fix, or we won't grow." We are aware of the things that need to be fixed and still need to be fixed, such as the issue of crime, the issue of infrastructure in the French Quarter, and our inability to grow the attraction that the Riverfront provides. We are trying to do this step by step. We have to move on with this plan to grow back and add to the jobs we lost due to Katrina.

Sabludowsky: What really surprised me was that 10-12% of the visitors were from the convention and organization sector. That means that 88% has come here for some particular reason other than conventions and events of that nature.

Romig: Correct. The Convention Visitor's Bureau, our partner in promoting New Orleans as a great destination, is a sales organization that sell to this organization and convention crews coming here with their attendees. These visitors spend a lot of money when they are in town. They make up around 13% of our visitation. Roughly 77% of the rest of the visitors are leisure travelers; people who are coming here for vacation or pleasure. They may come for a Saints game or an NBA All-Star Game. The remaining percentage is business travelers; people coming here for business purpose. The vast majority, though, is considered leisure travelers who stay on average three nights here. They may come in for a day to eat at a restaurant, visit the World War II Museum, walk in the French Quarter or shop on Magazine Street, and then return to their home. Both daytrippers and overnight visitors count.

Sabludowsky: As far as the survey, 75% of the people who responded had a favorable review.

Romig: That's always heartwarming because we want those individuals to speak favorably about the city and become ambassadors who share their stories with family and friends or share photos on social media. It's important for us to provide the rich experience that New Orleans provides and then have the visitors tell the world what happened here. Having a high level of acceptance, enthusiasm, and a favorable opinion about New Orleans when you leave helps the story spread to the country and the rest of the world.

Sabludowsky: I think that the 25% who did not have a favorable impression were probably people playing The Saints and losing. That's my theory.

Romig: We still have a lot of work to do as an industry and as a city to upgrade our infrastructure and provide the quality of life we all expect as citizens. We keep working at it. It's a testimony to our employees in the hospitality industry and our citizens that we are a very welcoming city. Having such a great number of visitors leaving with a favorable impression is something we should all be proud of.

Sabludowsky: What are the things that are most disappointing in the survey; things that you would like to improve? What are the remarkable things?

Romig: First, we certainly support the city's efforts to keep or visitors and residents safe. Like any other urban center in the country, we have our issues. But we know that we have the men and women in the police force who do this better than anyone. We continually need to do what we're doing; provide more revenue into the city funds to support the men and women in uniform. Secondly, there is a great need to continue taking care of the infrastructure in the French Quarter. This is our crown jewel, and whether it is finding funds for improved sidewalks and streets, sanitation, security, or lighting, we need to pay attention to the oldest neighborhood in our city. It needs constant care. We are taking steps to throw additional dollars that way. Thirdly, we need to pay attention to the Riverfront. Vast areas still need development so that we can allow that to be the natural asset that is has been for many years. There are so many more ways that we can do. By doing that, we can also decompress the visitation in the French Quarter. We want to have more visitors in the city, but we should spread the impact around the community. We've done a good job with improving the airport. Our taxi drivers have stepped up and are working very hard to be the great ambassadors they are. Customer service is good. Our hotels have been re-energized. We have over 100 festivals each year in New Orleans. We pretty much have a festival for everything. There are probably a few more things that we can have a festival around, and with the right planning and location, it could be a success.

Sabludowsky: Last question: in Baton Rouge, the legislature is in session. Is there anything you think that people who communicate with the legislature should tell them?

Romig: Certainly, the hospitality industry, not only in New Orleans but also throughout Louisiana, is an important driver of state economic health. We need to continue keeping that in mind as we move forward with solving issues. We want to make sure that we are growing. A lot of things are currently being considered. We have to make sure that we're moving in the right direction. We are 24/7, always active, not only making sure that our visitors are having a good time, but also that the employees in the industry can have a job and continue to grow. Some difficult decisions are being discussed, but I know that the right thing will be done at the end of the day.  

Sabludowsky: Thank you. The numbers are terrific. I look forward to topping the 2004 numbers.



New Orleans Achieves 9.28 Million Visitors in 2013
NEW ORLEANS – (April 22, 2014) – New Orleans’ tourism industry welcomed 9.28 million visitors in 2013, an increase of three percent, or about 272,000 people, from 2012 (9.01 million). The 9.28 million visitors spent $6.47 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over 2012 and the highest spending in the city’s history, according to a study released today.
The 2013 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile study, completed by the University of New Orleans (UNO) Hospitality Research Center for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) represents a milestone.
In 2003 New Orleans welcomed 8.5 million visitors, who spent $4.5 billion. The year 2004 was a record-breaking year, with 10.1 million visitors and visitor spending totaling $4.9 billion. After Hurricane Katrina, visitor numbers dropped to 3.7 million in 2006, with $2.8 billion in visitor spending. Due to the efforts of the New Orleans CVB and the NOTMC, visitor numbers increased to 7.1 million in 2007 with $4.8 billion in spending. Numbers increased in 2008 and 2009, ultimately reaching 8.75 million visitors and $5.49 billion in spending in 2011.
Seventy-five percent of the respondents who offered open-ended comments in 2013 provided positive feedback about the city; 46.8 percent of them plan to return or recommend New Orleans to others.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “The people, culture, food and entertainment in New Orleans are arguably the best in the world. We take pride in offering our visitors an authentic experience and are adding new options every year, so it’s no surprise that the city is continuing to see record breaking visitor numbers. New Orleans is on a roll and we’re thrilled that visitors across the globe are taking notice.”

All key indicators increased in 2013, compared to 2012:

  • Lodging spending increased by eight percent
  • Restaurant spending increased by 3.2 percent
  • Spending in bars and nightclubs rose by six percent
  • 77.2 percent of visitors surveyed were in New Orleans for vacation/pleasure
  • 13 percent of visitors surveyed were in New Orleans for association, convention, tradeshow or corporate meetings
  • 9.8 percent of visitors surveyed were in town for general business
  • 55.4 percent of business travelers extended their stay for pleasure for an average of two nights
  • Cruise visitors comprised about 2.1 percent of the total number of visitor responses, and they stayed an average of two nights in New Orleans before or after their cruise

The 2013 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile report also found:

  • The proportion of visitors with income of $150,000 or more was 17.2 percent; 20.6 percent have a household income of more than $100,000
  • 42.5 percent of New Orleans visitors were in town for the first time; 57.5 percent were repeat visitors
  • Overnight visitation from top feeder markets outside of Louisiana were: Texas, Florida, California and Mississippi
  • Visitors age 50-64 made up the largest demographic for 2013 visitors (35.6 percent), followed by 35-49 (28.1 percent), 25-34 (17.8 percent), 65 and older (12.7 percent) and 18-24 (5.9 percent)
  • Overnight visitor stays in New Orleans was an average of 4.2 nights
  •  The proportion of overnight visitors staying in a hotel decreased slightly to 59.5 percent
  • Average party size was three people
  •  The majority of visitors who stayed in a hotel made reservations through the hotel website (27.2 percent), or a travel website (21.3 percent), and 12.6 percent of visitors called their hotel directly.
  • The majority of New Orleans area visitors surveyed arrived in their personal vehicle (49.3 percent) or by airplane (45.6 percent)

“The traveler economy at its core is about driving economic growth and enriching the lives of people. The more than nine million visitors in 2013 pumped a record of $6.47 billion in spending directly into our city,” said Stephen Perry, President and CEO of the New Orleans CVB. “That money contributes greatly to state and local economies and supports jobs for more than 78,000 New Orleanians from every neighborhood.”
“We love our city. We love our way of life. And so do millions of visitors. The 2013 report shows that visitors are exploring more and more of our city and experiencing our unique culture and neighborhoods from the Bywater to MidCity to the Riverbend," said Mark Romig, President and CEO of NOTMC. “We are working together with city administration and business leaders to continue this growth in visitation and bringing tourism jobs and activities to areas of the city that could use our industry’s economic support.”
“The past five years have demonstrated incredibly strong growth in the number of visitors and their spending, with repeat visitation of 57.5 percent as evidence that New Orleans has a great formula for visitor satisfaction.  This type of sustained economic growth over so many segments of the hospitality and tourism industry facilitates a heightened level of economic development in numerous other sectors of the economy for the Greater New Orleans area,” said John Williams, PhD, Dean of College of Business Administration at UNO.
The University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center is a collaborative effort of the University of New Orleans’ Division of Business and Economic Research (DBER) and the Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration (HRT). Its function is to provide a variety of research services to hospitality, travel and tourism organizations. The HRC has been producing reports similar to this visitor study since 1997.
The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation is the City of New Orleans’ official leisure travel promotion agency created to foster jobs and economic growth by developing the tourism industry in New Orleans. NOTMC is publicly funded and provides year-round online marketing, advertising, public relations and special event programming in order to support the growth of leisure travel to New Orleans.
The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau is a nationally accredited, 1,100-member destination marketing organization and the largest and most successful private economic development corporation in Louisiana. The CVB and its members influence thousands of decision-makers and millions of visitors to choose New Orleans through direct sales, marketing, public relations, branding and visitor services at our New Orleans headquarters and offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago and four foreign countries. Consistently recognized as one of the top five CVBs in the country, the New Orleans CVB celebrates its 54th anniversary in 2014. For more information, please visit;;

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