Record crowds flock to the Big Easy

Tourist visits to New Orleans and the state of Louisiana as a whole reached record levels in 2014, thanks in part to Hollywood’s current fascination with those areas of the South.

According to a University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center Study commissioned by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, the city of New Orleans welcomed 9.52 million visitors in 2014 who spent a record-breaking $6.81bn. That level of spending is the highest in the city’s history.

Jackson Square
During that same period, the state of Louisiana welcomed a record-breaking 28.7 million visitors in 2014, a five percent increase from 27.3 million visitors in 2013. Tourists spent more than $11.2bn in the state in 2014, up from $10bn in 2013.

Meanwhile, a study by the motion picture industry revealed that one in every seven visitors to Louisiana traveled to the state because of a film or television show, showing a direct correlation between film and TV production and visitation. Productions including the 1986 movie The Big Easy with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin to the current, popular TV series NCIS: New Orleans and others depict New Orleans as a colorful city that harbors a dark side, as NCIS: New Orleans says on its Facebook page.

Having been to New Orleans several times, I can attest that one needn’t try very hard to catch a glimpse of the city’s seedier side. Walk down Bourbon Street in the famous French Quarter virtually any time of the day or night and you’re likely to see someone who has had too much to drink, evidence of too much revelry in the gutters, young women throwing beads from second-floor balconies the baring their breasts to all below. Upmarket white table cloth restaurants sit right next to seedy strip clubs and fine hotels are situated directly across the street from voodoo markets.

French Quarter architecture
All that aside, there are plenty of positives. It is indeed a beautiful city with its famous Garden District, the charming architecture of the French Quarter, and great restaurants catering to all budgets.

Chef Nina Compton, who competed on season 11 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef in New Orleans, opened her first restaurant on June 2. Located in Provenance Hotel’s Old No. 77 Hotel and Chandlery which opened April 30 at Lafayette and Tchoupitoulas Streets in the Warehouse and Arts District, Compère Lapin offers cuisine that melds the flavors of her Caribbean upbringing and love for French and Italian cuisine.

Chef Emeril LaGasse has several restaurants in The Crescent City, as does Chef John Besh.

Coffee and beignets
at Café du Monde
Two of my personal favorites are local haunts that have gained notoriety among visitors are Mother’s and Café du Monde. Both have made cameo appearances on NCIS: New Orleans as well as in other TV shows and movies. With Mother’s located at Pouydras and Tchoupitoulas Streets just west of Canal Street and Café du Monde on Decatur Street just east of Jackson Square, they are both easy to reach and well worth the effort, especially at breakfast time.

Members of the hospitality industry are working to make the city even more appealing. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) has broken ground an expansion of the French Quarter streetcar system. A 2.5-mile segment will run from Canal Street to Press Street in the Bywater neighborhood. Future plans include a segment that will extend along Elysian Fields Avenue toward the Mississippi River and tie in with the existing Riverfront streetcar line.

A $65m park along Convention Center Boulevard has been approved as part of the New Orleans Convention Center’s District Development Project, a redevelopment of 47 acres of riverfront property. The project also calls for construction of a new “headquarters” hotel, outdoor entertainment, arts and cultural venues and new retail and housing options.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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