Number of local, state tourists up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2001

An advertising campaign portraying Louisiana’s diverse music and cultures helped Louisiana set a new one-year record for tourist visits, state officials say.

More than 23 million Americans visited Louisiana in 2000, up from 21 million the year before, according to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

In Vidalia, the number of visitors to that town’s Louisiana Visitors Center also rose from 1999 to 2000, said center Supervisor Gay Guercio. Last year, 30,164 people visited the center.

&uot;Most of our domestic visitors come from Texas and Mississippi,&uot; Guercio said. &uot;Canada is the country most of our visitors come from as well as France, because of our Acadian connection.&uot;

And if the first quarter of this year was any indication, 2001 could be an even bigger year for the Vidalia center. Through March of this year, the center had 7,040 visitors, up from 6,711 for the same period last year, Guercio said.

&uot;March is our biggest month, because we’re so tied to Natchez,&uot; Guercio said, referring to the month of Natchez’s Spring Pilgrimage. &uot;We work closely with Natchez. They’re always sending people from their visitors center to me and vice versa.&uot;

When numbers reflecting overseas tourists who visited Louisiana in 2000 are available later this year, the state’s final tally should be about 24 million visitors, officials said.

The number of tourist visits in Louisiana has grown by 29 percent since 1994, the fourth highest rate in the nation for that period, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.

Based on the 2000 data, Blanco said, the tourism industry generated about $9 billion statewide. The budget of the state tourism office is about $17 million, she said.

For 2001, &uot;We’d like to see at least 1 million more visitors coming into Louisiana,&uot; Blanco said.

First-quarter numbers for 2001 should be available in the next few weeks, Tourism Secretary Phillip Jones said.

Early indications show that the state is seeing a 5 percent increase in hotel occupancy so far this year. In February, the state registered the fifth-highest hotel-occupancy rate in the nation.

He credits the growth to the state’s advertising campaign, which features the various kinds of music available in Louisiana.

&uot;We have also focused on cultural tourism,&uot; highlighting the state’s unique blend of cultures, food and history, he said.