The group held a reception at the Bourbon Street Grill in Manhattan, where two dozen media representatives attended and chefs served Louisiana shrimp, crawfish and alligator.
The coalition’s members spoke one-on-one to reporters to quell rumors stemming from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill has long since been capped, but tourism has dropped at least 20 percent in Louisiana, according to state tourism numbers.
Richard and others from Jeff Davis and St. Landry parishes personally visited high-profile tourism-publications, while Gerald Breaux, executive director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, spoke to the “Wall Street Journal.”
Why New York City? Richard said it’s a major media capital, and the mission was the first of many efforts to allay fears that Louisiana, specifically Acadiana, is not ready for tourism.
For her part, Richard spoke with a Conde Nast tourism publication.
“That one publication is festival-based and the story they run will be geared toward the Festival International (in Lafayette) and the Crawfish Festival,” she said.
“The reporter I spoke to, I think we got his curiosity going, because he had heard of New Orleans but was uneducated about this part of the Louisiana, (and) Acadiana. New Orleans takes over anything that’s popular, and that’s what people see,” Richard said.
The misconceptions are rampant that oil is washing upon Louisiana shores, this area is rife with inedible seafood, and also that tourists should stay away because of it. In reality, the parishes represented in New York are many miles from the Gulf Coast itself.
The mission, funded by the tax dollars from the state’s Culture of Recreation and Tourism, was three-fold.
One is that Louisiana is open for business and “things have not changed in Cajun Country since the April incident,” Breaux said. “Swamp tours are going on.”
The second is that seafood – especially relevant since the late-August opening of shrimp season – is being rigorously checked. At one Henderson/I-10 restaurant, for example, during the spill chefs were serving shrimp from Thailand. That’s changing, officials said.
The third mission-point is that the oil-drilling moratorium, backed by President Barack Obama since the explosion and subsequent spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, needs to “cease and desist,” Breaux said.
BP operated the well and later offered $15 million in tourism-promotion dollars to Louisiana, among other Gulf states. Yet by Labor Day holiday, generally perceived as the end of the summer-tourism season, the public-relations blitz was only beginning, Richard said.
“I probably spoke to seven or eight reporters,” Richard said. “One of the ones I met with had already written a blog (about the spill) and she was following up. She was very, very knowledgeable and might be one of the ones who come down here (as a follow-up).”
As it stands, the moratorium is on deep-water drilling below 1,000 feet, but the national perception is that the regulations are going to be tightened on shallow drilling – and even on land.
However, the stories in the New York publications take a while to change national opinion, so the situation is an ongoing concern.
“The comments (from reporters) were, basically, ‘We didn’t realize this was that important to you.’ They said, ‘If this is that important to you for you to travel up here, maybe we need to pay attention,’” Breaux said.
And because of the New York trip, “There are a lot of different avenues we have now,” Richard said.