New Orleans shares lessons

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Monday, February 3, 2014


AS CENTRAL Visayas rebuilds its tourism industry from the devastation wrought by the twin calamities last year, the region could benefit from adopting initiatives done by New Orleans, a city in Louisiana, USA that suffered a similar fate after hurricane Katrina hit the region in 2005.

Brad Weber and Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) on Friday advised Cebu tourism stakeholders to pursue a massive tourism marketing campaign to bring tourists back, particularly in areas badly hit by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda.

Weber said that in times of disasters, tourism players should get their act together to go out in the market and reach out to clients right away. He said it should not take weeks or months but days for the country to conduct massive marketing campaigns because it is during difficult and challenging times that competition immediately comes in.

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Sense of urgency

“There should be a sense of urgency given that tourism is based on image and perception. The moment something happens, you have to react, prepare and go out in the marketplace within days, not weeks, because competition will try to take away your spot, say you are broken, you can’t come back,” said Weber, during a dialogue held at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu.

The year before the Category 3 hurricane struck, New Orleans logged 8.7 million visitors. In 2006, the year after the floods, the numbers shrank to 3.7 million. But years after the calamity, the city bounced back and registered 9 million visitors in 2012 with $6 billion in tourism receipts.

Schulz projected that the city will end with higher tourism arrivals in 2013 after recording five million arrivals in the first semester of the year.

But bringing tourism back wasn’t easy, according to Schulz, given that after hurricane Katrina, a massive BP Plc oil spill made the region a tourist dead zone.

Weber said brand image was difficult for them because they had to deal with the negative reports in media for years. They also had to ensure every client of a constant progress report to keep them informed.

Schulz said one of the effective marketing campaign they conducted to bring tourism back was building healthy relationship with journalists who have been writing news stories about New Orleans. Schulz said that on top of giving them facts about the extent of damage, tourism and revenue losses and damaged infrastructure, they also gave them positive and uplifting stories about New Orleans getting back to business.

They said they had more than 700 international journalists hosted in 2007 on customized trips to dispel reports.

“We had difficulty in brand image so we looked for ways that would help people understand what New Orleans is like after the hurricane,” said Schulz. They also had all government agencies cooperate with one another in terms of providing progress reports and all the possible angles the media can pursue.

Share facts

“We constantly share facts with the media. We also report every milestone of the city to them,” she said.

Schulz said they also made the people of New Orleans understand the recovery initiatives they were undergoing to save tourism. On top of building good rapport with the media, the city also invested in various advertising materials with catchy taglines of the city’s leisure activities in various tourism establishments and airlines.

Schulz said they also invited famous chefs to fish in their coastal areas to counter negative perception brought about by the oil spill.

With all these marketing efforts, businesses, particularly restaurants, have doubled in New Orleans, said Schulz. The city also earned the recognition of National Geographic Must See Place for 2014.

Asked about their assessment of the Philippines, Weber said the local tourism industry did not react quickly enough to address tourism concerns.

Although, there are initiatives conducted in the regional level, Weber pointed out there wasn’t urgency in reaching out to the foreign and domestic markets right after the disasters.

Feedback

But Weber said it isn’t too late given that the Philippines is not only a home to wonderful tourism sites but also to wonderful and friendly people. “Aside from the natural beauty, the asset of your country is your people,” he said.

Among Schulz and Weber’s recommendations for the country is to come up with more familiarization tours for local and foreign journalists, more exposure in the travel market, and the creation of a Customer Advisory Board, an organization that collates all customer feedback.

The two noted that most of the improvements of New Orleans’ tourism were from the feedback from customers and tourists.

The Philippines, they added, can also duplicate the “voluntourism” initiative which they set up in New Orleans, to make tourism more fun and significant particularly in areas affected by the twin calamities.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 04, 2014.

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