New tourism campaign involves old fight over funds

‘Only in Louisiana’ to focus first on Mardi Gras as statewide event

The year 2014 brings a new campaign to market Louisiana to tourists, and another effort to stop the Jindal administration from raiding dollars set aside for promotional efforts.

The big emphasis in the new year will be on Louisiana’s cultural diversity. It comes on the heels of a yearlong advertising effort pushing the state’s musical heritage.

The “Only in Louisiana” message is the tag-line.

The first big splash promotes Mardi Gras as a statewide — not a one-city — celebration that lasts several weeks.

After Carnival season passes, the next phase rolls out in March and April. It will push the state’s unique art, music, food, architecture, history and people.

“We are going to expand the brand promoting Louisiana as a unique cultural destination, things you will only find in Louisiana,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said.

Louisiana is competing with other states that have growing tourism advertising and marketing budgets, such as Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, said Dardenne, who oversees the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Tourism is a big part of Louisiana’s economy. About 26.3 million tourists visited Louisiana in 2012, which resulted in $10.7 billion in spending. One out of 10 of the state’s workers have jobs in the hospitality industry.

Dardenne said his office needs the full $22 million to $23 million that is supposed to go to tourism promotion annually. The money is generated by a three-one-hundredths of a cent sales tax.

“I’m not looking for more money, but give me what the law says we are going to get,” Dardenne said.

In recent years, anywhere from $8 million to $14 million of the dedicated funds have been diverted from advertising and marketing efforts as the Jindal administration has looked for places to fill budget holes.

The dollars have gone to such things as fulfilling state financial commitments when New Orleans hosted the NFL’s Super Bowl, which cost $6 million. The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, the New Orleans Bowl, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the Special Olympics also received funds that had been dedicated to tourism marketing, Dardenne said. This year’s budget also diverts $200,000 to Baton Rouge’s Bayou Country Superfest, a three-day country music festival in LSU’s Tiger Stadium.

Dardenne said he and state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, will again push legislation in 2014 aimed at establishing a special fund that could be tapped when a state financial commitment is needed to host major sporting events, thereby leaving the tourism marketing fund alone.

The fact that New Orleans did not land a college football playoff title game could give impetus to the drive to set up the special fund.

“We weren’t financially competitive with what other cities did,” Dardenne said.

The playoff, which will replace the Bowl Championship Series starting next year, will take place in Glendale, Ariz., next year and in Tampa, Fla., the following year.

Allstate Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan, who spearheaded the local effort along with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, said that unless more financial resources can be found to fund the ever-increasing costs of the bids, the city might be shut out altogether from hosting the title game.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was noncommittal on the diverting of dedicated tourism dollars and creation of the special fund.

Work is ongoing on the state budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Nichols said in a prepared statement.

“We will advance a balanced budget that reflects our priorities of investment in health care, higher education, and public infrastructure. We will continue to work with the Legislature and the Lt. Governor to maximize opportunities to make Louisiana a destination for national and international events,” Nichols said.

The initial phases of the 2014 tourism advertising campaign will cost $1.8 million, with $300,000 directed toward promoting Mardi Gras in January and February, and $1.5 million to advertise cultural diversity in the spring.

The Mardi Gras campaign will target drive-in markets such as Austin, Texas; Houston; Jackson, Miss.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Little Rock, Ark.

The spring campaign will target areas such as Denver, Atlanta, Chicago and Memphis.

“The message is when they come to Louisiana, they are going to leave with an experience unlike anything else,” Dardenne said. “When you leave Louisiana, stories will be your best souvenir.”