Chances are you’ve seen New Orleans singled out in “Places to Visit” lists across the national media landscape recently, culminating with the #1 spot on the New York Times “52 Places to go in 2018.” Messaging like this doesn’t just simply happen, it is the payoff of a long game played by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation team, whose purpose is to bring leisure travelers to our fair city. And the man leading them is President and CEO Mark Romig, whose tireless efforts in this regard have made him the clear choice for the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience’s 2019 Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.
For NOWFE president Gail Varuso, the selection made perfect sense. “Mark’s genuine passion and enthusiasm for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are contagious. He truly is ‘Mr. Hospitality,’” Varuso said. “We are so pleased to honor Mark Romig for the extraordinary achievements he has made to the hospitality and tourism industry, not to mention his spirit for community collaboration.”
In person, it’s clear why so many find Romig to be a natural leader. He is charismatic and possessed of an enthusiasm that draws people in. Even if you haven’t met him, chances are you’ve heard of him – like his father Jerry did for decades, Mark calls the home games in the Superdome for the Saints. (His is the voice that thunders “touchdown”, ”field goal” or other plays.) Romig’s self-effacing manner belies the professional success he has had over the years.
Romig grew up in Lakeview. He went to Brother Martin High School and later UNO, where he received his B.S. from the School of Business Administration. He got his feet wet in the hospitality business in hotels, first interning at the Royal Orleans and then later with a team that helped build the Hotel Intercontinental. “I remember the great joy of being there when they first opened that hotel,” Romig recalled. He also served as the VIP Liaison for the 1984 World’s Fair. His career ascended. He moved to Washington D.C. and worked high up in the Department of Transportation with an eye on the West Coast. But at that pivotal moment he was summoned back to New Orleans to work for Hibernia Bank. “I threw myself into volunteering at this point,” he said. “The bank asked me to represent their interests on things like the Ballet Board and Project Lazarus. That was the point where I became deeply involved in volunteering. I reveled in it – I just loved it.” After Hibernia he spent 16 years with Peter Mayer advertising agency, building up a suite of public relations skills that have served him ever since.
His tenure with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation began in 2011. Romig’s messaging has since bulled its way through the national noise, helping to sell the city with his early embrace of social media and out-the-box campaigns such as ‘One Time in New Orleans…’ He is quick to credit his staff for the heavy lifting, explaining his role as that of a manager to create the best possible environment for his crew to shine. “I’ve just been blessed having such a strong team. Everyone has a role, I try to keep them out of all the external issues so they can do their job the best that they can,” he explained.
Initiatives in 2018 included an increased focus on inclusiveness, with a concerted effort to include more minority-owned businesses in his messaging campaigns. Community projects slated for 2019 include Healthy Hospitality – a program that arranges the disparate clinics available to hospitality workers in an easy-to-use platform that will take the legwork out of navigating the system. “This will be a concierge type of service that a worker can use by calling or going on an app to get help,” he said. Along the way Romig has found time to serve on the Super Bowl Host Committee, Idea Village and the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee, to name just a few.
Reflecting on the loss of Ella Brennan, Romig’s memories go back to sitting with her in her den off the back patio of Commander’s Palace and talking over an Old Fashioned. “She was she was a mentor for so many people,” he recalled. “And hospitality wasn’t something she taught you – it was something you picked up from her. The idea of how things should be.” If Miss Ella embodied the essence of hospitality, it has been Mark’s job to message this to the world. He has done so with remarkable success.
Editor’s Note: Each year the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience recognizes someone in the hospitality industry with the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award named in honor of the late matriarch of Commander’s Palace. New Orleans Magazine annually profiles the winner who, this year,will be honored at an event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on January 17.