Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser wants it known: It was another record-breaking year for the state's tourism industry.
On Monday, Nungesser and a group of speakers kicked off the 34th Annual National Travel and Tourism Week with spirited speeches at the Livingston Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau, where citizens of Livingston and Tangipahoa Parish came together to promote local tourism.
Nungesser, who was the final speaker to address the crowd, proudly hailed Louisiana’s tourism industry for its record-setting year in 2016 during the first of a series of scheduled stops he’ll make this week to promote tourism in the state.
A record 46.7 million tourists visited Louisiana last year, up from 45.1 million in 2015 and the fifth straight year that record was broken. Those tourists spent an estimated $16.8 billion while generating $1.04 billion in tax revenue that Louisianians didn’t have to pay.
But the number that excited Nungesser most was the 40-1 return on investment of state funding for tourism. For every dollar Louisiana taxpayers spent on the tourism industry last year, it brought in $40.
“Not a bad investment in tourism,” Nungesser said.
The theme for Nungesser during this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week is “Faces of Travel,” which he said intends to shine a spotlight on the people that make up the travel industry. There are more than 231,500 people employed in tourism-related jobs in Louisiana, making it the fourth-largest employer in the state.
After praising the tourism industry, Nungesser lauded parish presidents Layton Ricks (Livingston Parish) and Robby Miller (Tangipahoa Parish) for their efforts in rebuilding their communities that are still recovering from the Great Flood of 2016 last August.
“There are leaders that show up for the pictures and do a few things, and there are leaders that go beyond the call of duty,” Nungesser said.
It was quite the scene at the Visitors Bureau located on Catholic Hall Road just off the Albany-Springfield exit. Members of the 2016 Louisiana Renaissance Festival walked around the three tents set up for the event, fully garbed in either pirate costumes or other medieval attire. Festival queens from last year were also present, happily posing for pictures with children.
Middendorf’s owner Horst Pheifer provided everyone with his restaurant’s world famous thinly-fried catfish, followed by strawberry shortcakes for dessert. While people ate, Reggie Sanders and the Trio Band serenaded them with pleasant jazz tunes on the front porch.
Eric Edwards, executive director for the Livingston Parish CVB, and Carla Tate, executive director of the Tangipahoa CVB, spearheaded the event, hoping to present a united front to Nungesser on the first of his 10 scheduled stops in four days throughout the state.
“Tourism takes everybody, and it also includes everybody,” Edwards said.
Nungesser also hoped to gather support for his Ambassador Program, otherwise known as “Bayou Krewe.” Instead of traveling to other parts of the country, Nungesser is urging Louisianians to visit a part of the state they've never been and post their experiences on social media using the hashtag #OnlyLouisiana.
“Tell that special story in your neck of the woods and help us share it with the world,” Nungesser said.
With this year being the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service, Nungesser said the federal government will try to encourage citizens to venture outside of their home states, but the current lieutenant governor wants those people to instead come here.
“You can fish anywhere, but you catch fish in Louisiana,” Nungesser said. “Where else in the world can you catch a fish in the morning and a pair of Mardi Gras beads at night? All those things you can’t do anywhere else.
“Only here in Louisiana.”