Katrina, BP: New Orleans is back
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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Photo tour of the creepiest churches on earth
Not every place we love always makes it into a story. The reasons are varied—a magazine page can only hold so many words, an online story can only be so long, and sometimes, even though one Budget Travel editor loves an idea, others don't agree, and it gets outvoted. It's a treat, then, when we get to feature some of these eliminated—though worthy—spots in another venue, like our blog! In an online story coming out next week (just in time for Easter!), we're celebrating the world's most beautiful churches in a feature story and photo slideshow. Our writer Terry Ward did a great job reporting it and came up with more than a dozen gorgeous nominations for us to consider. One in particular, the Capuchin Crypts stood out—not so much for its beauty, but for its can't-turn-away creepiness. The crypts are spread across a series of small chapels beneath a relatively non-descript church called the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, in Rome, Italy. But what makes them spine-tingling is that they're constructed from—and decorated with—the skeletal remains of 4,000 friars, who died in the 17th century. The bones are nailed to the walls and ceiling in intricate sculptural patterns, piled high in corners, and hung from the ceiling as light fixtures. Yikes, right? The photos of the Capuchin Crypts are incredible—but beautiful? Not necessarily. So when it came time to narrow the nominations down and select a list of the top ten most beautiful churches, the Capuchin Crypts didn't make the cut. Instead, we thought we'd share photos of the crypts with you here. We also included photos of another creepy church of bones, the Kutná Hora, near Prague, Czech Republic. Enjoy this peek inside both of them via our slideshow—and be sure to look out next week for a view of the flipside, when we debut our story and slideshow of the most beautiful churches in the world! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: New York City: Church turned club reopens as shopping mecca World's Most Haunting Cemeteries 10 Smallest Bars in the World
One of Mexico's strongest assets: Value
Last year, Mexico welcomed 22.4 million international tourists. Despite the ongoing negative press about Mexico, the destination continues to attract millions. How is that? There are many reasons, many of which are the same reasons Mexico attracted tourists long before the problems with drug cartels and violence flared up—the country's beautiful beaches, colorful culture, wide range of resort properties, its archaeological sites and adventure offerings. But there's another reason why many tourists aren't deterred by some of the bad news out of Mexico. For many, Mexico represents an unbeatable value for the vacation experience, a bang for your American buck, that is difficult to beat. "Over the last 10 years, I know of no other destination in the world that has raised the standards higher while keeping the prices virtually stable—and in some cases lower—in terms of real dollars, than has Mexico," said Terry Denton, president of Travel Leaders in Fort Worth, Tex. Denton noted that while airfares to Mexico have increased due to scheduled airline cutbacks and fewer charters, the prices of hotels and resorts south of the border have stayed relatively the same in recent years. "One of the hardest hit places for negative press was Texas," said Sandy Babin, vice president of marketing for Apple Vacations. That was in large part due to a strongly worded statement issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety last month discouraging spring breakers from heading south of the border. "While we did see a drop in Mexico sales at the height of the negative stories, we are seeing Mexico pick up again, and the feedback from our area travel agents is that the prices there are too good for people to pass up," said Babin. For comparison, Apple noted the difference in price between comparable packages to Punta Cana in the Caribbean and Puerto Aventuras on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. For instance, a 7-day, air-inclusive package from St. Louis to the Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana for select June departures runs about $1,450 per person. A 7-day, air-inclusive package to the Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa for select June departs goes for about $980 per person. Similarly, a 7-day, air-inclusive package from Chicago to the Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana for select May departures goes for about $1,250 per person. While a 7-day, air-inclusive package from Chicago to the Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa for select May departures runs about $950 per person, according to Apple Vacations. More from Budget Travel: Undeterred spring breakers head to Mexico It's a prime time to visit Mexico, says this expert Cancún, Mexico, Air/3 Nights, From $289
Europe's biggest tourist traps?
A new Lonely Planet survey finds that Ireland's Blarney Stone is one of Europe's many "tourist traps." Three out of four people said in a survey that the 15th-century Blarney Castle with its famous rock (to be kissed for good luck) is not worth seeing. I must admit I agree about the Blarney Stone. Kinda overrated. But fortunately it's now well guarded. Back in the day, local kids were rumored to sneak in at night to piss on the stone the tourists would kiss the next day. Another attraction most of 13,000 surveyed travelers say to skip is the London Eye, a "glorified Ferris Wheel" in the heart of the British capital. But now it's your turn. What do you think are Europe's most overrated attractions? We're talking about specific experiences, not entire countries, please. Things like: Taking a gondola ride in Venice. Climbing to the top of The Eiffel Tower. Attending Oktoberfest in Munich. Let us know by posting a comment! MORE THAN BUDGET TRAVEL What's better than Stonehenge? (19 comments) Should we tip flight attendants? (60 comments) Introducing the new 'all you can drink' cruise 100+ Facebook likes
The ideal vacation: Indulge or detox?
They are two very opposite notions of what a vacation should be — totally indulging in all your desires with the all-you-can-eat options and services of all-inclusives and cruises, or totally depriving yourself of them with cleansing detox retreats, complete with calorie-conscious meals and yoga classes. And yet both vacation trends are thriving, despite one another. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('ff4d280a-3db6-4eff-bd4e-c333116a82f3');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)On the one end, you have the continuously increasing number of all-inclusive resorts and cruise ships, which continue to reinvent themselves, capturing more and more market share on the premise that once you're on the property or ship, there are no worries, and no restraint. The concept is growing in part because it is also expanding its reach. Take all-inclusive resorts, for example, an idea introduced by Club Med 60 years ago. But what once had the reputation of being reserved for families on a budget or the party-in-the-pool crowd, has evolved into a much more sophisticated product offering. Now, there are high-end and luxury all-inclusive resorts, where the mile-long buffet has been replaced by chef's table specialty restaurants serving molecular cuisine. El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels in Mexico, for instance, is an example of a property that embraces the concept of the "gourmet inclusive," which encompasses fine dining cuisine, swim-up suites and butler service. The non-stop building momentum in the cruise industry, with more and bigger ships being launched each year, further proves that the all-inclusive vacation experience on mega ships such as Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, remains an attractive, happy-go-lucky vacation option for many travelers. And while for some, this is seen as the true definition of paradise, there are others who go on a vacation to experience just the opposite, to be deprived of the things that tempt them at home. For them, there is a booming industry of yoga retreats and healthy living getaways at properties such as the Blue Pearl Laguna, a yoga, hiking, and cleansing retreat, in Laguna Beach, Calif., where the proprietors prepare nutritious meals and host yoga classes and hiking excursions. Or a company like Escape to Shape, which hosts exotic trips that combine luxury accommodations with fitness and healthy cuisine. I can just see the two factions trying to understand one another. The indulger: "So, you're paying to starve and sweat?" The detoxer: "So, you're paying to be stuffed and pampered?" Perhaps, the two types of vacationers will never see eye to eye, or perhaps there is some room for crossover. It all comes down to how you define your vacation time. What about you? Do you see vacation as a time to indulge or detox? Let us know by voting in our poll or commenting below. More from Budget Travel: Ask Trip Coach: All-inclusive resorts Are health-conscious cruises all the rage? The nation's top resorts and spas on sale during Wellness Week