New Orleans Launches Web Push To Lure Travelers Back

The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will launch an eight-month Internet push to boost tourism to the Crescent City two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged it.

The effort aims to bring intrepid travelers to the city, while countering perceptions among tourists that it still hasn't rebuilt its infrastructure and is only a place to visit to see the aftermath of the storm rather than the Cajun cultural and gastronomic wonders that made it famous.

The effort, which involves the Lonely Planet travel site, is being handled by the Travel Ad Network, LonelyPlanet.com's sales team, with creative by Trumpet, New Orleans.

Tiffany Starnes, brand strategist on the New Orleans CVB account at Trumpet, says the effort is intended to identify the best potential visitors by targeting the "seeker" profile, with efforts designed to generate buzz, drive traffic to 24Nola.com, and ultimately get offbeat travelers to New Orleans.

"It's the 'off-the-beaten path leisure visitor'," she says, adding that the CVB wanted to expand its purview partly to boost summer travel to the city, when business travel all but disappears and the heat is ... a challenge. "We figured we could reach them online. Convention travelers--the business trade--they get it, and are recommending it to meeting planners and professionals, so we have moved the needle with that audience."

The campaign includes banner ads running on an array of properties from nytimes.com and wsj.com to Gawker.com, online travel channels and, of course, LonelyPlanet.com. "There will also be a social-networking element," she says, "where people can be engaged, not just click through, so we can get them involved to talk about what they would do in the city."

The 24Nola.com site lets visitors plan a 24-hour itinerary in New Orleans--with a focus on attractions that don't involve Mardi Gras, the Jazz Festival, Hurricanes (the drink), or Katrina (the hurricane), since those attractions don't need promoting.

Conceding that most tourists these days come to town to see the damage Katrina did, Starnes says the effort is about food, music and architecture. "There are so many things you can do here, and we wanted to highlight that." She says the plan had been to run it in through the fall, but that the plan is extended. "We think it has a lot of long-term possibilities."

Banner ads also tout a promotion co-branded by Lonely Planet in which site visitors can upload videos about their ideal New Orleans itinerary. Lonely Planet will choose three winners, fly them and a friend each to New Orleans and videotape their adventures.

The videos will be submitted to Lonely Planet, where they will be edited, and then uploaded into LonelyPlanet.tv and LonelyPlanet.bluelist.

The New Orleans CVB reported 6.6 million visitors in 2005, bringing in $4.2 billion. Katrina rolled over the Gulf Coast in late August that year. The year before that, tourism had peaked to 10.1 million visitors, spending $4.9 billion--and the city ranked sixth among U.S. vacation destinations, according to the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center.

Last year, New Orleans-based Market Dynamics Research Group surveyed 5,000 online travelers on their perceptions of conditions in the city. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they believed that some neighborhoods of New Orleans still had standing flood water from Hurricane Katrina, 14% believed New Orleans is not safe to visit due to contaminated air or drinking water, and 12% indicated that the historic districts in New Orleans, such as the French Quarter, were destroyed or are devastated.

The city has been trying to ramp up marketing with ventures like The New Orleans Media Center, a public and private group that has run media campaigns to change the perception that New Orleans' infrastructure is still broken.

The city also launched an integrated campaign, "Come fall in love with New Orleans all over again" that featured famous people from the Crescent City.

Although the convention center is open, and the French Quarter was largely unscathed, most tourists come to New Orleans to see what remains of the damage caused by the hurricane, not to see the sights the city was famous for.