River Parishes tourism finding every way to rebound
Published 12:00 am Monday, December 18, 2006
Christmas Eve bonfire tour is offered to all
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – The reality of rebounding from Hurricane Katrina in terms of the River Parishes tourism business has set in.
Whereas early estimates of a year or two for tourism to come back to the River Region seemed like the norm, now the talk is five to 10 years.
That’s why River Parish Tourism Executive Director Jesse Lambert said the Tourist Commission is carefully picking its areas to target.
“Our main thrust has been to attend as many tourism shows around the country as possible, and I really think that is working to begin getting the interest to our region back,” she said on Thursday, at the monthly meeting of the River Parishes Tourist Commission. “And I don’t think we’re spinning our wheels. We have been targeting the RV market, the wedding market and the senior market.”
The biggest upcoming event for the area is “A Bonfire Adventure” which will offer visitors, and locals as well, a chance to take a guided tour on Christmas Eve that will conclude with the bonfires in St. James Parish.
“The one thing I am seeing at the trade shows is that the New Orleans area, which includes the River Region, is now getting positive press about what we have to offer,” Lambert said. “The numbers are slowly coming back here, and I think you will see that continue in 2007, although we know things aren’t ready to explode just yet.”
One popular River Region plantation which recently reopened to full tours is Laura Plantation on the West Bank, which was seriously damaged by fire over a year ago.
Director Norman Marmillion said that the restoration of Laura has made the plantation even better than ever.
“We learned so much about the house in doing the restoration,” he said. “We saw the layers of wallpaper that had been in the house, and got the furniture restored. The house now has brighter colors and we have a new visual effects show for people to see. But I don’t want to tell what it is about, and hope people will come out to see for themselves.”
Laura Plantation will be featured on WYES with a documentary on January 14 about the restoration of the building, as well as the story of the plantation.
Marmillion agreed with other plantation owners that business is still extremely slow, far below the numbers before the hurricane.
“And the holidays are not a big tourist time for people out of the area. Instead we get a lot of business from people in the area who are looking for something to do when they come into town,” he said. “So we hope a lot of locals will visit our plantation, and the others in the area, over the holidays.”
Kim Fontenot of San Francisco Plantation said that business is about 20 percent of what it was before the hurricane, but her group is like others who are “doing whatever it takes to stay up and running.”
“We won’t go out of business thanks to our foundation, but we have had to cut back staff severely, and now we all do a lot of different things,” she remarked. “We’ve done a lot of school groups, and parties. But none of the plantations will come back like they were until New Orleans comes back completely, and that will take years.”
Lambert said that a big event in 2006 which drew interest to the area was the plantation car show, which will return again in 2007, this time at St. Joseph’s Plantation near Oak Alley.
“We had 100 cars last year and we are expecting between 250 to 300 this year,” she said.
Lambert also reported that the River Parishes Tourist Commission just received some great news of a $150,000 grant from HUD, part of $30 million that was available for Katrina-related economic problems. The money must be used exclusively for marketing the area.