Nungesser: State, SW La. tourism numbers on the rise

Published 7:16 am Friday, May 12, 2023

Louisiana tourism numbers are picking up sooner than projected, including numbers right here in Southwest Louisiana where not only the pandemic pounded the market, but severe weather event after severe weather event. As part of the National Travel & Tourism Week celebration, Visit Lake Charles honored the people who work behind the scenes in the hospitality and the travel industry for serving with excellence and making it happen.

The second annual Recognition of Service Excellence (R.O.S.E.) Awards event was held at L’Auberge Casino Resort Wednesday. Keynote speaker Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser and Visit Lake Charles President/CEO Kyle Edmiston handed out awards and updated attendees on the state of tourism.

“Much has been done here in the way of recovery,” said Edmiston, “but there is still much to do. As we sit here tonight, we’re 1,800 hotel rooms less today than we were pre-storm. Yet, we have just as many visitors with the consolidated rooms available.”

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Edmiston also noted the challenge of a reduced workforce.

“Not every business is open every day the way it used to be,” he said. “Yet we continue to shine with events, festivals and meetings.” He said Southwest Louisiana continues to be the youth sports capital of the state.

The tourism industry was projected to take as much as eight years to recover, according to Nungesser. In 2019, Louisiana welcomed over 53 million visitors who left behind 1.9 billion in taxes. In 2022, a year during which all flights, hotels, restaurants and attractions were not yet open, visitors numbered 42.6 million, he said In 2023 or 2024, Nungesser expects another record year.

“One of the ways we’re going to be able to do that is with the international market,” Nungesser said. “They stay longer, spend more money and they see more than just one or two cities.” This year Louisiana tourism received a $300,000 a year grant for the next three years from the Department of Commerce and International Trade which will be used to market Louisiana as a travel destination in Italy, Spain and India, Nungesser said.

He has been traveling across the United States to generate excitement about the Super Bowl to be played in New Orleans in 2025 and riverboat cruise stops at Louisiana’s World Heritage Site, Poverty Point. In addition to tours of this 3,400-year Indian trading hub, engineering marvel and monument to ingenuity, this North Louisiana location offers fishing, golfing, lodging and a new conference center.

Nungesser noted progress in cleaning up the litter in the state. The first year of the Love the Boot initiative, 40 to 50 groups participated. Last year, 261 groups worked to clean up communities. Last week, at 547 events, universities, schools, government agencies, social and service clubs, even Republican and Democrats joined each other to pick up litter in all 64 parishes, he said. Before the Rose Award winners were announced, Nungesser unveiled the change from the name of the Travel Louisiana website to Explore Louisiana to communicate added excitement.

R.O.S.E. Award winners for 2023 are: Outstanding Culinary Professional, Executive Chef Chris Heath, Golden Nugget Casino Hotel; Outstanding Hotel Sales Professional, Rohonda Colletta, Sales & Revenue Manager, Southern Hospitality Services; Outstanding Casino Floor Professional, Edrich Desormeaux, Executive Casino Host, Delta Downs Racetrack Casino Hotel; Outstanding Food Service Professional, Lea Ann Leatherman, Pioneer Club; Outstanding Banquet/Catering Professional, Roger Fontenot, L’Auberge Casiono Resort; Outstanding Bartending Profesional, Austin Martinez, The James 710; Outstanding Guest Services, Marjorie Latigue, City of Lake Charles Historic City Hall; Outstanding Valet/Bellman Profesional, Estelino Alon, L’Auberge Casino Resort; Outstanding Housekeeping Professional, Stacey George, Home2Suites by Hilton; Hospitality Arts & Tourism Award, Paige Vidrine, Owner of Buffi’s Peaux Boys; Lasting Impression Award, Adam Vidrine & Nathaniel Alured, Smoke and Barrel; Public Service Award, Heath Allen, Executive Director of the Lake Charles Regional Airport; Tourism Lifetime Service Award, Adley Cormier & the late Melinda Antoon Cormier; Sports Partner of the Year Award, Hunter Bower with Geaux Preps; Tourism Champion, Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser; Chair’s Cup Award, Dr. Neil Aspinwall, Chancellor at Sowela, Shelly Johnson Tourism Leadership Award, Sarah Judson, CEO of the Community Foundation of SWLA.

The American Press will profile some of these individuals in upcoming stories.