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Q&A: UNO Professor Of Hospitality Talks New Orleans Tourism Impact Of Coronavirus

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New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2012.

Festival season brings hundreds of millions of dollars into New Orleans annually. Fear of coronavirus, however, will mean fewer visitors this year — and cancelations. 

New Orleans Public Radio spoke to Bridget Bordelon, professor of hospitality management at the University of New Orleans, about the virus’s impact on the city’s tourism industry.

Betsy Shepherd: Here in New Orleans it’s almost primetime for tourists to come to the city. Can you talk about the role of festivals, conferences and cultural tourism in New Orleans’s economy?

Bridget Bordelon: You’re exactly right. Festival time is our prime market for attracting visitors. Our primary drivers for tourism — a lot of that has to do with both our leisure market and our convention market. In the spring, the Jazz and Heritage Festival just on average has approximately a $300 million economic impact on the city. That can include things like food and beverage, retail, entertainment, lodging, shopping, transportation. Think about all the indirect impacts that we have by millions of visitors descending on us at this one time.

Can you talk about how travel fears in response to coronavirus might impact the tourist season this year?

In terms of primary tourism markets like New Orleans, we really haven’t seen anything like this. There’s a lot of uncertainty because every day new information is evolving. We see a reduction in air seats, we see conference ballrooms with less people, and cruise ships as well. We’re looking at how this virus is unfolding, so we’re not really sure what could be happening tomorrow.

We just heard that Austin, Texas canceled its annual South by Southwest festival this year. What do you think would be the threshold for canceling Jazz Fest or the French Quarter Fest, and what would the impact of that be?

Looking at South by Southwest, that was a major cancelation and I know that has a kneejerk reaction throughout the hospitality industry: “What’s going to happen to New Orleans?” And thankfully as of today, there have been no announcements of cancelations of major festivals.

The effects would be devastating. And we hope that if there had to be a cancelation, perhaps there it be a postponement or rescheduling so that the destination could still maintain that level of economic expenditure.

What can local businesses do to prepare for lower turnout this year?

Some of the strategies that local businesses can utilize are communicating facts and information about the proactive steps they’re taking to keep people safe. Communicating about providing soap and hand sanitizer, the extra wiping down of surfaces, all of that information can help people try to make that important decision about what level of risk they’re willing to take.

Betsy Shepherd covers environmental news and is producing a podcast on the Civil Rights Movement in small-town Louisiana. She won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for a feature she reported on Louisiana’s 2016 floods.

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