Depending on which list pops up during an internet search, New Orleans barely makes the top 50 U.S. cities in terms of total population. It has just less than 345,000 people. The number is still not back to what it was prior to Hurricane Katrina of August 2005, which devastated the city, but IPW 2016 affirmed to the international tourism community that New Orleans is definitely back as an international destination.
Because such a large percentage of the city is dependent on tourism, there is a certain everyone-knows-everyone character to its tourism-related businesses. On the IPW trade show floor, one frequently heard exchanges such as this in the New Orleans/Louisiana section: “Martha, wouldn’t Denise know about that? Yeah? OK, why don’t you go over to Denise over there—she’s the one in the purple blouse, and she can take care of you. All right, hon?” Denise was two aisles away.
The compactness of the relatively large New Orleans community is ideal, it seems, for an industry such as tourism, in which face-too-face relationship marketing is so important. And everyone in the distribution chain, right down to every taxi driver, feels as if he or she is part of it. One Uber driver told the Inbound Report’s editor of an exchange he had while driving a guest from one appointment to another.
Asked by the passenger what he thought of the new BB King’s Blues Club, the driver told his passenger that it wasn’t much. It was just another chain place. The food was nothing special, and if he wanted to hear good music, he should go to Frenchman Street. After a few more comments, the driver asked the passenger, “Why do you want to know?” His passenger answered, “Because I’m the president of BB Kings.”
After he “put his head between his legs,” the driver said that he was thanked for his honest opinion and given a voucher for a free meal.
Another driver cautioned our editor to wait directly in the cover of the doorway at the guest house where he was staying to be picked up. “That neighborhood’s kind of sketchy,” he explained. “You don’t want to be walking around there too much dressed like that. That camera’s a dead giveaway that you’re from out of town.”
About half of the dozen or so drivers we had were, at one time, in another line of work or another industry, but had gotten laid off or simply lost interest. Driving for Uber offers them flexibility and the chance to do something else at the same time, they told us.
What is the New Orleans Product? We’ve been to New Orleans on at least a dozen occasions and the top tourism products (the top products, not all of them) are: Attitude, Food, Music—and not necessarily in that order.
The Attitude: “We’re the professionals! We know how to do this!” crowed Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans CVB, told an IPW news conference on Monday morning—after hearing both Roger Dow, president and CEO of US Travel and Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA make references to how difficult it must have been for everyone to be awake and active at such an early hour. (The news conference started at 8 a.m.) His message: You’re in New Orleans. It’s time to party.
The “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” attitude of New Orleans is a cousin of the “What happens here … stays here” norm for behavior owned by Las Vegas. A walk down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter (it’s legal to walk around with an open alcoholic drink here) has as much of a party atmosphere as a private affair inside a dark ballroom or night club.
The strong carnival-followed-by-Mardi Gras tradition (in which the Christian religious significance is utterly lost), with its party masks, festive attire, beads, painted faces, second-line parades permeated the IPW social functions. The Sunday night opening function inside the Louisiana Superdome, complete with a private Mardi Gras parade and ear-splitting noise scored well with delegates—except, possibly, for the noise level, as conversations were carried on at the level of shouting.
Rated higher was Wednesday night’s closing party at the River City Complex with its Mardi Gras World, Natchez riverboat and cavernous spaces inside (the buildings are used to construct floats for the big annual Mardis Gras parade) had just about everything a party goer wanted: gambling, dancing, food (more on this below), stilt walkers, tarot card readers, face painting … and a fellow with a small alligator that delegates posed with for photos. Someone wondered aloud if the alligator would later become alligator bisque.
The Music. No city its size has as much musical talent abiding within its borders than does New Orleans. It is a constant presence throughout the city, as it was during IPW. A local FM station set up in the IPW Press Room throughout IPW, broadcasting regular programming and live performances from time to time—featuring local talent. (Local talent includes or has included such names as Fats Domino, Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Al Hirt, Doctor John, the Neville brothers and more.) While jazz is the idiom most people think of when they think of music and New Orleans, one can find just about type of any music being performed somewhere in the city—ranging from rock-a-billy and blues and to classical and Zydeco.
The performers in the press room made it mildly difficult for some of the journalists to work—although some were bobbing their heads or tapping their feet in time as they did—with a foot-stomping Zydeco version of “Jambalaya” playing at more than a background level. We found that one cannot escape the sound of music anywhere in New Orleans. But, then, why would one want to escape the music. It is one of the three signatures of the city’s tourism product.
The Food. Perhaps the best way to describe how important food is to what New Orleans is would be to describe the food at IPW’s closing function as the best the Inbound Report’s editor has experienced since his first IPW in 1986 in Phoenix. Almost all IPW functions will have six, seven or eight major food stations, with each station featuring the same collection of dishes. At the River City complex on Wednesday night, there were at least 40 different serving stations—each with a unique dish.
Anything from cheese and sushi to fried oysters and praline cream crepes were available. Our editor’s personal favorite was the Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque. (Don’t ask.) For the imbibers, the reward seems to be that New Orleans mixologists have figured out more ways to sweeten, sour or neutralize alcohol than just about any other drinking city in the USA.
It is difficult to understate the quality or range of food in New Orleans. A Colombian Creole restaurant is not too far from a Japanese sushi bar along St. Charles Avenue, which has a restaurant on every block. Here are our two favorites.
Finally, someone informed us that there is also such a dish as sacred chicken. We’ll pass.