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Council meeting reflects on state of tourism

LAPLACE — Tourism took a hit in 2020 courtesy of the coronavirus, but the River Parishes Tourist Commission remained active, positioning itself for what will hopefully be a robust rebound in 2021.

Most importantly, however, the commission rolled out its rebranding, changing its name to Louisiana’s River Parishes, which outgoing executive director Buddy Boe said reflects the area’s rich diversity.

“This one was easy,” said Boe, who told St. John the Baptist Parish Council members that he was leaving his position, where he has served for more than three years, on June 17, 2021. “This region does not need a nickname, does not need a gimmick.

“It felt natural and as soon as we launched the new brand, everyone got it. We did not have to explain anything.”

Councilwoman Tammy Houston said she loves the new name, especially how it “adheres to the climate and the culture going on right now in conjunction with the world and the need to embrace all cultures and to recognize our diversities and bring us together.”

“(The new name) is very inclusive and reflects what is going on in the River Parishes,” she said.

Boe said the name change also allowed the commission to develop a family of brands reflective of the area’s attractions that can be independently marketed.

He said the new brands include New Orleans Swamp Country, Andouille Trail, New Orleans Plantation Country, Bonfire Country, River Rhythm and the 1811 Slave Revolt, which he called the country’s first freedom march.

“We can now market just to adventure seekers the New Orleans Swamp Country. Or just to history buffs New Orleans Plantation Country,” he said.

Boe said his team also spent much of the past year getting educated. He said he and Director of Sales and Business Development Wilma Harvey completed the Certified Destination Management Executive program and were awarded perhaps the highest honor one can achieve in the tourism industry.

Boe said the commission also continued to revamp programs and partnered with region businesses to become more digitally active.

“A region whose history is centuries old had to figure out a way to be digital and be virtual so people who could not travel here could still learn and appreciate what we have to offer,” Boe said. “We launched Virtual River Region, which included audio tours, maps, brochures, you name it. Anything we could get our hands on. In some instances we had to help attractions digitalize things.”

The commission also developed a Taste of River Parish digital ad campaign, which updates residents as to what restaurants were open in a 30-mile radius during the initial pandemic shutdown this past spring.

“We felt this was very successful,” he said.

Perhaps most creative was Streamin’ On the River, launched in May, which offered a seven-day virtual vacation in the River Parishes. Boe said visitors were daily taken to an attraction, a cooking demonstration, musical performance and shown a movie at the end of the day, all virtually.

“Everything we have ever done was to try to grow the network and grow the commission,” Boe said.

The commission has developed River Region 2030, replacing the former strategic plan, which was approved in 2007. He said the plan includes seven focus areas and has several initiatives not just for the commission to accomplish but for “us to work with local governments, local community entities, to put together money and resources and energy and staffing to encourage things.”

“The better we make the River Parishes to visit for a visitor the better we make it a better place to live for a local,” he said.