River Region Tourist Commission looks toward the future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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LAPLACE – It could take three years to recover from the “huge knockout” to the travel industry brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Buddy Boe, executive director for the River Parishes Tourist Commission.

Revenue is expected to be down $162,000 for the Tourist Commission, which represents St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes. Boe said hotel occupancy in the region is hovering around 20 percent, compared to the usual average of 65 to 75 percent. This has resulted in a significant loss of revenue and has led the Tourist Commission to shift attention to recovery plans.

At the recent River Parishes Tourist Commission meeting, conducted via Zoom video conferencing, a travel industry representative shared that people will crave adventure after being cooped up for months. She said the wanderlust will return, but it will start close to home with a larger push among locals to explore smaller destinations with wide open outdoor spaces.

The Tourist Commission’s “River Rising Plan” uses a marketing approach that will first reach out to locals and then the state before branching outward. According to Boe, polls state that it will take four to six months for many Americans to feel comfortable staying in hotels again for health and financial reasons. However, the research shows it will only take two to three months for people to feel comfortable going out to dinner or attending a large local gathering.

The Tourist Commission is updating its website to showcase local attractions through videos and other digital content. The Taste the River Parishes campaign, which highlights local restaurants that have remained open for pick-up or delivery during this trying time, has collected almost half a million impressions from more than 1,700 unique visitors to the site.

The previously filmed River Reel video series will continue to be a digital focus to encourage locals to visit culturally rich attractions right in their backyard. Some restaurants, such as Spuddy’s Cajun Foods in Vacherie, are posting online cooking videos to engage the public.

“As we continue to wade into uncharted territory, I am asking all of our partners to send any digital/virtual information on your business, attraction, or history you have to us so we can roll out a Digital River Region effort in the coming days and weeks to provide locals and future visitors with information that will keep them interested in visiting our destination,” Boe said.

Examples include videos, digital libraries, drone footage, audio tours, live streams, digital flipbooks, 3D images and tours and more. Links and files can be directed to andre@visitnopc.com for use in various digital campaigns.

The long-term recovery will also feature a focus on local parks and outdoor spaces such as the Bonnet Carré Spillway and the Manchac Greenway.

“Our brand says we are the country. We are not an urban setting,” Boe said. “We’re shifting our campaign to show more of the green, more of the trees, more of the fields and bike paths and the kayak tours through the swamp.”

Boe said the Tourist Commission will ask the three parishes to consider tourism and hospitality programs in their spending of incoming Community Development Block Grants in regard to the COVID-19 crisis.

During last week’s Zoom meeting, the commissioners approved an amendment deferring collection of hotel occupancy taxes for 30 days to assist lodging partners. Commissioners also approved amendments to the annual budget allowing $75,000 to be pulled from the reserve fund. This will help cover expenses and mitigate the loss of revenue the Tourist Commission is anticipating for this year.

Boe is decreasing his own salary by 10 percent for the next 90 days, and one employee is being furloughed for 120 days.