Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 9:44 PMOne million people visited Calcasieu Parish during 2012, and tourism officials believe the number will increase next year thanks to a robust local economy.
Those visitors came to the parish for events booked by the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. According to bureau officials, the statistic does not account for all visitors who came to or through the parish.
Shelley Johnson, executive director of the visitors bureau, said a host of events helped expose Calcasieu Parish to a larger audience this year.
“It started with Josh Ledet, then we had visitors due to this being the state’s bicentennial year, along with the sporting events and conventions,” she said. “I think the big economic boom that we have been hearing about is already happening on certain levels here.”
Hotels were one sector of the economy that benefited from more visitors to the area.
Bureau statistics indicate that there were 86,027 room nights booked in Calcasieu Parish this year as of this week. The area has 5,550 hotel and motel rooms available.
For 2013, the bureau’s sales department has overseen the booking of 8,000 rooms already.
“This summer, USSSA tournaments had 10,000 room nights and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conventions had 8,000-plus rooms booked,” said Tico Soto, the bureau’s sales director.
Visitors who came to the parish due to sporting events led to a 16 percent increase in room bookings compared with 2011. The top sporting events that bring visitors to the area are baseball, rodeo, softball, swimming and basketball.
Soto said corporate travel to the parish increased, and is expected to rise for the next 18 to 24 months as construction on a number of industrial and gambling facilities continues.
“Our main goal is to keep our repeat business like the high school rodeo and conventions and meetings that have been coming to Calcasieu Parish. We also want people and businesses to know that if you bring your event, we will work to make sure those events are successes,” Soto said.
He said the bureau gets calls from different groups and agencies interested in planning conventions and events in the parish. The bureau forwards the contacts to local hotels and motels for room rates. Eventually, the groups choose the hotels they want to stay in and the venues they want to use.
“Visits are up in terms of group sales,” Soto said. “In the last two years, we’ve developed a good relationship with local vendors who provide services for the visitors who come to the parish.”
He said the benefit of having so many visitors is that local businesses get additional customers.
“Our job is to get those events here and then get those people out into the parish to our local businesses,” he said.
Soto said the bureau’s relationship with local lodging businesses is good.
“They are aggressive but understand partnerships. They know that once the events are booked, it is up to them to provide good service,” he said.
Angie Manning, the bureau’s communications director, said social media sites are being used to promote different events and the businesses that sponsor them.
“One of the things that we want to do is encourage other businesses to link with the bureau’s social media platform. We are doing a lot of social media and want to be innovators on using those type of communications tools,” she said.
People interested in planning meetings, weddings, sporting events and other happenings should contact the bureau at 436-9588.