Tourism, parks, museums

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Tourism and travel-related businesses and industries continue to bolster Louisiana’s shaky economy despite the state’s woeful lack of support for parks, museums and other resources that accentuate Louisiana’s unique cultures and traditions. The state’s $12 billion-a-year tourism and travel industry generates a billion dollars annually in state and local taxes and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But Louisiana is not coming close to reaching its potential for economic growth through tourism-related activities. Just this month, the New York Times named New Orleans as the No. 1 place in the world to visit during 2018. Other sites on that list included Basilicata, Italy; the Caribbean and the Lake Lucerne area of the Swiss Alps. That kind of positive nationwide and international recognition will attract thousands of new visitors to New Orleans, and large numbers of those tourists will travel to other parts of Louisiana, including Natchitoches.

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But other media reports that surfaced at about the time the New York Times was promoting New Orleans focused on just how fragile Louisiana’s tourism industry is becoming. Tourists were checking out of New Orleans hotels early, and huge conventions were called off because of a lack of water pressure in hotels and other buildings. That provided a glimpse of the infrastructure problems in Louisiana and many of its cities. There is a $12 billion backlog in road and bridge construction across the state, and coastal erosion is damaging and destroying areas along the Gulf Coast. That is all extremely detrimental to tourism in the state. In other headlines, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser noted that funding for state parks has been chopped by 40 percent over the past decade and that the state is millions of dollars behind in repair projects at the facilities. Only two parks and historical sites made profits last year, and 20 others cost state taxpayers more than $8 million. Museums like the Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches continue to operate at huge deficits.

One reason, obviously, is that the state is not spending money to market and promote those facilities or to provide modern new interactive exhibits that help create the kind of experiences that visitors want and expect. Nungesser deserves credit for continually trying to get the message out that Louisiana must expand private and public funding for parks, museums, the infrastructure and other tourism resources to continue reaping the enormous economic benefits of that industry.