Many New Orleanians may feel 2010 was an extraordinarily topsy-turvy time. After all, in the same year the city celebrated its first Super Bowl victory, it found itself on the frontlines of the nation’s worst oil disaster and marked both the progress and the enduring pain of Hurricane Katrina at its fifth anniversary.
But in one important regard, 2010 was unambiguously positive: tourism. New Orleans was among the most popular and fastest-growing destinations in the country in 2010, according to early results from the hospitality industry research firm Smith Travel. Using data gathered through September, the firm ranked New Orleans first among the nation’s top 25 markets for growth in revenue per hotel room, a key measure of industry success. This figure, called RevPar, was up more than 16 percent year-to-date by September, and it was up 47 percent for September alone.
“I think we’re seeing the result of a combination of things,” says Kelly Schulz, vice president at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Super Bowl victory was part of it, and then just all the work the hospitality industry has put in over the five years since Katrina and again since the oil spill, getting the message out there that yes, you can come down to New Orleans and have a great time again. It makes the point that marketing money is needed to get your message out there and that it can get you results.”
Travel+Leisure magazine also recently ranked the city the top destination in the nation for nightlife.
Looking ahead, the tourism industry anticipates a number of milestones in 2011. For instance, the city expects to see the return this fall of the Hyatt Regency, the massive hotel near the Superdome with nearly 1,200 rooms that’s been shuttered since Katrina. Norwegian Cruise Line recently expanded from seasonal to year-round cruises from New Orleans while Carnival Cruise Lines plans to base a second ship here in September and Royal Caribbean International will homeport a 3,855-passenger ship here in November.
The progress comes as the industry continues building back toward its pre-Katrina record of 10.1 million annual visitors. That figure was down to just 3.7 million visitors in 2006 and had grown to 7.5 million in 2009. Figures for 2010 were not available at this writing.
“We’re actually doing much better than a lot of other cities, which really says something when you consider this economy,” says Schulz.