(The Center Square) – Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser highlighted efforts to promote tourism in the state and continued plans coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic during a Senate Finance Committee meeting.
Nungesser explained his office is requesting $20 million for tourism in the upcoming budget, as well as an additional $2 million for state parks and other one-time investments in Louisiana museums, to help boost the state after shutdowns that dragged local fundraising during the pandemic.
The money is going toward a full-court press to promote “every fair, festival and every event in every corner of this state,” with a focus on helping Louisiana businesses recover from the pandemic, Nungesser told the Senate committee Wednesday.
“We know getting back open is only part of what we need to do, but if restaurants, shops and attractions don’t make money, they won’t make it,” he said. “So we’re having to dig deep into every area of the state and promote every event because most of them don’t have any money to promote.”
Nungesser said his proposed budget included about $7.5 million to fund services for the blind and handicapped and internet access at public libraries across Louisiana because of shortfalls in other departments.
The lieutenant governor detailed returns from a wildly popular alligator float used during the Macy’s Day Parade, a $1.5 million three-year advertisement in Times Square, and smaller investments to promote local attractions.
“We’ve … added $1 million to promote swamp tours, museums, walking tours, all these small venues around the state to get people back visiting all of those. And we added another $1.5 million to the fairs and festivals,” he said. “We found out their budget had been strained in the two years they haven’t been able to have their fundraising events, so we’re having to put up more money to fund those things.
“Things that normally stand on their own, like Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, and Festival International, we’re having to be sponsors of these because of lack of corporate sponsors that usually help host those events,” Nungesser said.
Event organizers must secure funding ahead of time, “so we jumped on early to make sure all of these events took place,” he said.
The department is marketing in airports, Times Square, train stations, taxis, buses and other places across the country and internationally, and officials are monitoring the ads to maximize returns, he said.
The state also has focused on further developing a civil rights trail started in 2019, with nine stops now recognized as part of the national civil rights trail.
Nungesser also pointed to milestones and planned investments with state parks that are expected to generate significant revenue and provide other benefits.
“We’ve seen our highest visitation at state parks in 10 years,” he said.
A new public-private horse riding partnership, glamping tents and mountain bike trails have contributed to the growth, along with investments in direct sewage for campers, Nungesser said.
Officials are hoping to expand the direct sewage to all state parks, he said, which would increase occupancy significantly and generate “a couple million dollars” more in revenue by increasing rates by $12 per day.
“A lot of retirees wouldn’t come to our parks when we first got into office because you had to bring your sewage to a station,” he said. “We’ve been adding … direct sewage, and those sites book up immediately.”
The department’s long-term vision is to partner with state and federal agencies to utilize the sites for temporary shelters during hurricanes or other natural disasters.
Nungesser also detailed other proposed improvements to the state’s museums and historical sites, as well as efforts to promote Louisiana’s seafood industry.