For Visit LC team, promoting SW La. means economic development now, future

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Nothing defines a region and makes it unique like its culture. Seeing its art, experiencing its traditions, trying its cuisine and strolling through its history can often be the best guides.

Matt Young, director of public relations for Visit Lake Charles, is part of a team that develops strategies and programs to promote tourism in Southwest Louisiana and, in turn, stimulate economic development.

Young said 2023 was the year of culinary exploration in Southwest Louisiana with the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off — in which Chef Amanda Cusey bested 11 other chefs to be named Queen of Louisiana Seafood — and the launch of Chuck Eats Restaurant Week, which put the spotlight on 38 restaurants over a 10-day period.

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Young said the event brought 92,881 unique visitors to, a website the bureau facilitates.

The year also saw the launch of the multi-day Louisiana Food & Wine Festival. Events were held at the new Sowela Technical Community College Culinary, Gaming, and Hospitality Center, Bayou Rum Distillery, Bord du Lac Park, Coffee:30 Express, Southlake Theater and Horseshoe Lake Charles.

Young said the tourism bureau is funded by a 4 percent occupancy tax. In 2018 — largely spearheaded by the city of Lake Charles — the visitor’s bureau began collecting an additional 1 percent from the state Legislature with 95 percent of that money designated to municipal governments to invest in their infrastructure.

“The idea is that if folks are coming in from Houston and they’re using our bridges, our streets and taking advantage of the things here, then they should be helping contribute to the funding of those repairs, as well,” Young told members of Kiwanis Club Lake Charles on Tuesday.

From its operating budget, the bureau also invests heavily in area events. In 2023, the bureau gave $7,500 to Banners, Mardi Gras, Rouge et Blanc and Smoke & Barrel; $5,000 to Lake Charles Symphony Summer Pops, City of Lake Charles Christmas Lighting Festival, City of Lake Charles Fourth of July Celebration, Chuck Fest, DeQuincy Railroad Museum: Thomas the Train and This is Home Fest; and $3,000 for Downtown at Sundown, LC Pirate Festival, Live at the Lakefront, MLK Festival, Rum Revival, Southcoast Book Festival.

“It’s a lot of these events that draw in our out-of-town visitors and we want to invest in our community,” Young said. “When they’re here, they eat at our restaurants, they shop at our stores. It’s great for our area.”

The bureau is made up of three main teams — the sports team books athletic tournaments at area complexes; the sales team books conferences, reunions and weddings — and in 2023 that team booked 81 meetings resulting in 28,607 nights booked in local hotels; and the marketing team — of which Young is a part of — looks for ways to bring outsiders in, generally those within a six-hour driving radius.

Young said part of his job is to invite social media influencers, travel journalists and content creators to the area, show them all Southwest Louisiana has to offer and pack in as many restaurants for them to try as possible during their visit.

“Then they go home and write about it,” Young said. “One recent article that I was very proud of was in The Independent, a UK-based paper, and their headline was ‘Move over New Orleans, Lake Charles is our new favorite family friendly Mardi Gras destination.’ ”

Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras is a big draw for the bureau, which markets the event as the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state.

“That’s based on the number of krewes, parades, balls and festival events,” he said.

The Mardi Gras Museum, formerly housed in the Central School Arts & Humanities Center, will soon be built just east of the Nellie Lutcher Memorial Park on Enterprise Boulevard. It is being funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Economic Development Authority, $290,000 as well as the land from the city of Lake Charles and $400,000 from the Calcasieu Police Jury.

“I think it’s location on Enterprise Boulevard is appropriate because we’re really trying to revitalize that cultural district and also work in sync with Historic City Hall, Port Wonder and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Nature Center to really create a cluster of options for visitors,” he said. “It’s Lake Charles to check out all the attractions.”

Groundbreaking on the museum is expected in the coming month and construction could take 12-18 months to complete.

Visit Lake Charles’ current campaign is “As Much Joy as You Can Pack In” and Young said they are bringing that message to places such as the Pecan Street Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

“We’re trying to think a little more outside the box, not just bringing people in and showing them what we have to offer but going to them and connecting with that community,” Young said. “Sometimes living in Lake Charles we don’t realize the efforts that go outside of Lake Charles to promote the destination and there’s a pretty substantial chunk of change being spent in these markets where we really see an opportunity to grow our visitor-ship.”