NEW ORLEANS (press release) – The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the tourism industry throughout the world, illustrating the depth of pain New Orleans is feeling, the deeper economic crisis still to come, and the dependence of our city on hospitality. The newly released New Orleans visitation numbers for 2019 remind us of how important the hospitality industry is by shining the light on another record-breaking year while giving us pause to reflect on what is now so terribly damaged. In 2019, the city welcomed 19.75 million visitors, a 6.7 percent increase in visitors compared to the previous year. Visitors to New Orleans in 2019 spent $10.05 billion, a 10.3 percent increase over 2018, according to D.K. Shifflet & Associates’ (DKSA) reporting.
With the tourism industry effectively shutting down in mid-March, more than $200 million of visitor spend in the city is currently being lost per week. The impact on New Orleans businesses and the hospitality workforce has been devastating, but could effectively worsen as many workers have enhanced unemployment compensation only until July 31 and companies that have been aided by the federal CARES act will be facing an acute reduction in customer levels that could remain impaired throughout the Fall and Winter. The depth of these losses depends on Covid 19 mitigating therapies, the slow pace of business re-openings currently allowed in New Orleans, the recent ban on festivals and similar gatherings, and the slow increase expected in the consumer’s intent to travel. The impact of this loss of visitor spend will have a devastating effect as well on public finances and services in a city disproportionately dependent on tourism. The impact of slow tourism demand on the 98,000 hospitality workers, some of whom are still currently employed but with few duties, many furloughed, and tens of thousands coming off enhanced unemployment compensation will be severe as those companies surviving will have greatly reduced jobs available and will be suffering significantly depressed revenue as we enter August and the Fall months.
The 2019 visitation study, commissioned by New Orleans & Company, shows consecutive increases in both visitation and visitor spending for the past thirteen years. These record numbers are consistent with those of the State of Louisiana, which this week reported 53.2 million visitors and $18.9 billion in visitor spending for 2019. Compared to 2018, those numbers reflect an increase of 3.8 percent in number of visitors and a 2.1 percent increase in visitor spending statewide.
“This announcement of positive news ironically comes as a reminder of how critical tourism is to the hundreds of small businesses and tens of thousands of workers who comprise the heartbeat of New Orleans’ largest industry. New Orleans is faced with an unprecedented challenge of how to persuade government to let our businesses open safely, with all appropriate social distancing standards and in a manner that allows us to be at the vanguard of the entire global tourism community in employee, visitor and venue safety ,” said Stephen Perry, President and CEO of New Orleans & Company. “New Orleans world famous restaurant community is in dire peril as are our cultural attractions, music venues and the countless musicians and culture bearers who make us so unique. We need to reopen commerce and regenerate demand but do so with a high degree of safety meeting national and state standards.”
“Another year of record-breaking visitation and visitor spending shows the strength of our tourism industry and the appeal our phenomenal city and culture has to attract visitors from around the world. It also shows how, if allowed, our industry can lead us back to normalcy as we did from the horrors of Katrina. This is a different challenge than any we have ever had to face, our city has repeatedly proven that we will come together as a community to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. We look forward to safely hosting and welcoming leisure, meetings and business travelers, so that the tourism industry can once again provide the city with the revenue stream it depends on for survival, preserving and maintaining jobs for our citizens and providing the quality of life that makes New Orleans such a unique place.”
New Orleans’ cumulative 10.3 percent increase in spending activity from the previous year was seen in categories including:
- Lodging spending increased by 6 percent (reaching $2.23 billion)
- Entertainment and recreation increased by 15.09 percent (reaching $1.31 billion)
- Food and beverage spending increased by 14.67 percent (reaching $2.4 billion)
- Shopping spending increased by 9.41 percent (reaching $953 million)
- Transportation spending also increased by 7.2 percent (reaching $2.87 billion)
*Number reflects transportation bringing travelers in and out of destination
“This kind of performance does not happen accidentally. This success is a testament to the hard work of our internal team of professional marketers and salespeople, as well as our members and our workforce. These numbers demonstrate what sound strategy, tireless effort and pride in work can do for an industry and a city’s economy,” said Mark Romig, Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President, New Orleans & Company.