What do the Arctic Circle, the mounds at Poverty Point and New Orleans tourism have in common? J. Stephen Perry, the President/CEO of New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. Since August 2002, Perry has been the head of this private corporation that globally promotes the New Orleans area as a great place to visit for leisure and to do business. What makes Perry so interesting is that his path to the NOMCVB is filled with Indiana Jones-like experiences mixed with governmental whiz kid panache. He has survived the Louisiana swamps during an archeological dig and worked in the Louisiana Legislature. He has negotiated the Arctic terrain and a deal for the Saints to stay in New Orleans.
It seems like Perry’s melding of adventure into whatever business or exotic and not-so-exotic place he lands was honed as a boy who had the Louisiana State University campus as his playground. His father was a professor of education and the Dean of the Junior Division. He stayed at LSU for both undergraduate and graduate studies.
Working as a teacher’s assistant in anthropology with a side in prehistoric archeology, he was pursuing a Ph.D. and a career in academia when he found out that a child was on the way. His path diverged into government, starting in the Louisiana Legislature.
Though outside of anthropology and government circles he wasn’t well known, when he became Louisiana Governor Mike Foster’s Chief of Staff in January 1996, Perry was front and center in what – looking back – was a dynamic period in New Orleans. While working for Foster, Perry was instrumental in putting together Gov. Foster’s economic development package, including financing for Phase III and planning for Phase IV for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, as well as part of the team that got the NBA’s Hornets to New Orleans and negotiated keeping the New Orleans Saints in the city. Ironically, it was policies and initiatives he supported while working for Gov.
Foster that are now helping with him in his latest position, one that took on a great importance after Hurricane Katrina when regaining the city’s tourism business seemed insurmountable. But Perry and his team have done it: NOMCVB, which has 80 employees and offices in five foreign countries and U.S. cities, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “We are the largest economic development agency in the state of Louisiana,” says Perry.
So, what’s the next act for Perry? It is bound to be interesting – his life has been so far.
Profession: President/CEO, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau Age: 56 Born (and raised):
Baton Rouge Resides: Warehouse District Family: Wife (of two years), Cameron; Two children: Bronwyn, 32, Ian, 19; and a dachshund named Miga. My sister is Sally Perry, executive director of the NOCCA Institute. Education:
University High School; Bachelor of Arts in history and Russian Area Studies from Louisiana State University with time at Moscow State University in the former Soviet Union; and Master of Arts in anthropology from LSU.
Completed the Senior Executives Program in State and Local Government of the Kennedy School at Harvard University Favorite Books: I read voraciously. Crime and Punishment – I’ve read it in English and Russian.
Descartes’ Bones and I love Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Favorite Movies: Godfather I and II, His Girl Friday (the one with Cary Grant) – it’s absolutely hilarious – and North by Northwest. Favorite TV shows: NCIS, Lie to Me, Heroes, and football. Favorite Food: Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Lasagna, without any question, and my homemade chili with three kinds of beans. For my last meal, I would pick four things – lasagna, a real French cassoulet, my chili and a slice of pizza (pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, jalapeno peppers, goat cheese and arugula). Favorite Restaurant: In my business, I can’t just say that! I can say New Orleans and Paris are my favorite food cities, and I have 10 favorite restaurants in New Orleans that I rotate to every two weeks. Favorite Musicians: I have very eclectic tastes. I think my favorites have to be John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Edith Piaf and Miles Davis. I love contemporary female vocals: Kate Voegele and Priscilla Ahn. I listen to a lot of Bach. Favorite Vacation Spot: Paris. I felt like I’ve lived there in former lives. San Francisco and Rome. Where I’ve never been and want to go are Istanbul, Cairo and Beijing. Hobby: Writing, traveling, reading. I also play golf – though I took a break because I hurt my back – tennis and basketball.
How many days are you on the road? I travel more than 100,000 miles a year, and last year I spent 80 nights in a hotel.
What were the big changes in the tourism after 18 years of not being directly involved? New Orleans didn’t have the range of assets it does now. I was in there during a time prior to the  World’s Fair, and it was much more heavily focused on the leisure side. After the World’s Fair was over, we began to build the [Ernest N. Morial] Convention Center and build the meetings business. The city has changed into a tremendous special event destination, as well as convention and meeting destination – in addition to leisure.
What have been your greatest accomplishments as the executive director and CEO of the NOMCVB? I think it has been to provide a steady and reassuring hand, and a large package of innovations at a time crisis.
What’s also been very nice for me is having us recognized and voted by the meeting planners of the world and our customers for over the last eight years as one of the top five CVBs in the world. That means a lot to me. We probably have the most innovative, best practices that we developed here of any in the country. We do more things differently and creatively and with a better competitive edge than anyone that I see – and I see my peers all the time.
What tourism boards are you on? I’m on the board of directors and executive committee of the U.S. Travel Association, which is our primary body that deals with national policy and tourism. I was asked by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to serve on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. I’m on the board of directors of DMAI [a worldwide association of CVBs], which is our worldwide governing body, and now I’m its chair-elect and this summer I’ll take over as the worldwide chair.
Why is this important? In a time after Hurricane Katrina, my service on a lot of these national councils and boards hasn’t been just rewarding for me personally, but it has been very, very advantageous for the city, because it puts a spokesperson for the city in the middle of virtually every major national issue.
Do you agree with the statement that New Orleans relies too much on tourism as an industry? I think that’s completely intellectually false. What you have to realize is that tourism is one of the largest industries in the world and it employs people in New Orleans from every neighborhood; from every cultural sector; from every race and religion.
It employs the top business executives in the city and it also generates the economy for all the other support businesses.
True Confession: I always wanted my ashes to be buried in Tiger Stadium.