Katrina, BP: New Orleans is back

Courtesy Michelle Baran
New Orleans street musicians

One year after the disastrous BP oil spill and nearly six years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, New Orleans reported that it welcomed more than eight million visitors last year for the first time since Katrina.

In 2010, New Orleans welcomed 8.3 million visitors, who spent a total of $5.3 billion, the highest visitor spending in the city's history, according to the 2010 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile survey, conducted by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, based on responses from 5,343 people.

"It is energizing to see such strong results," said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, especially, he added, "coming out of the strong economic downturn, and on top of the difficult perception challenges created by the BP oil spill …"

Following the oil spill, the New Orleans CVB received $5 million from BP to help fund a tourism marketing campaign intended to combat misperceptions and let people know they could still enjoy New Orleans despite the spill, which took place 115 miles off Louisiana's Gulf coast and never actually reached the popular tourist town.

Nevertheless, people were worried about the oil slick and its impact on the region's famous seafood, seafood that is the key ingredient in local specialties such as gumbo, barbecue shrimp, fried oyster po-boys and Cajun-spiced catfish.

A Katrina-hardened town determined not to be struck down yet again proactively combated the image issue, using the BP funding to run print, TV and Internet ads with slogans such as "Anyone else need a cocktail?" featuring an image of a shrimp cocktail.

Whatever New Orleans is doing (whether actively or passively), it appears to be working. According to the survey, 77.7% of visitors to the Big Easy last year were there on vacation, and they spent an average of $142 per day in the city.

So, who's making the trip down south? Residents from Texas, California, Florida, Mississippi and New York brought in the biggest number of visitors to NOLA.

What about you? Were you nervous to go to New Orleans last year post-spill? Would you go now? What is it about the Big Easy that makes the city so special?

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