By Rahel Solomon
It’s no surprise that tourism drives the New Orleans economy. The $5 billion industry creates 74,000 jobs for New Orleans and this year experts at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau estimate the 2012 National Association of Black Journalists Convention will generate $3.6 million in revenue for the city.
“Conventions and tourism are the lifeblood of the New Orleans economy,” said Tara Letort, director of group PR at the bureau.
The $3.6 million figure is calculated by multiplying $1,176 (a figure Letort says their research indicates three- to four- day convention goers spend daily) by the number of attendees. In reality, the $3.6 million figure may be slightly lower because attendance numbers for the visitors bureau are higher than those of NABJ.
The visitors bureau has estimated 3,100 attendees but NABJ President Greg Lee said between 2,000 and 2,500 members had registered as of Monday.
“Compared to recent years, Philadelphia was the peak,” Lee said referring to attendance numbers at the 2011 NABJ convention in Philadelphia. “I think we can measure success [this year] by anything greater than 2009 or 2010.”
Lee is a native of New Orleans. A graduate of the nearby Xavier University and a former Times-Picayune reporter, Lee says he knows first-hand how important tourism is to New Orleans. Lee said in his youth he worked at a convention center in New Orleans.
“I just want to contribute,” he said.“ New Orleans is very dear to me. I’ve always wanted to contribute to my hometown after Katrina.… To bring a convention of this sort- it’s the least I can do for what this city has done for my life.”
NABJ is one of the several black organizations to host a convention or a festival in the “Big Easy” this summer. Essence Magazine will host its Essence Music Fest in the city July 5-8. Later in July, the National Urban League will also meet here.
“Without tourism New Orleans won’t survive,” said Gerald Riley. Riley, 52, lived in New Orleans for eight years and now resides in Crowley, La.
As the city’s tourism industry continues to recover after Hurricane Katrina, the natural disaster of 2005, its population rebounds too. The New Orleans population is now at 87.5 percent of its pre-Katrina level, according to a report released earlier this month by the University of New Orleans. The population now stands at approximately 1.2 million, with 8,000 new residents added this year.
“It’s more like it was before the hurricane,” said Riley. “A lot of people moved away but they’re coming back because they believe in New Orleans. They believe in the South.”