A Virus Infects the Tourism Trade in New Orleans

By Anusha Rainey

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

From hotels to restaurants, from live music to biking tours, New Orleans has its reputation of being loved by tourists. One thing about New Orleans that people love is it’s hosting services. But for those working in the tourism industry, it’s no vacation.

A table from the Louisiana Tourism Forecast 2016-2019, prepared by the Louisiana Department of culture, recreation and tourism, indicates that in 2019, New Orleans will have 123,000 employees in tourism.

“Hospitality is a very big driver of the New Orleans economy,” says Mike R., a buggy driver for Royal Carriages, who has worked as a tour guide for three and a half years. He estimates that 6% of his income is based on tips. When asked whether he thinks tourists understand that many people’s income relies on tips, Mike R. said it depends on where they come from, whether they understand the tipping culture or not.  “I think being a tour guide is one of the best part-time, best paid part-time, jobs you can have…a good tour guide can make a very decent living.”

“For me, it’s always been the best other job to have, the best sort of supportive way to do the other things in my life….” Eugenia Rainey says, who has worked for Haunted History tours for about fifteen years. She estimates that 10% of her income comes from tips. Whether tourists understand the importance of tips for some people depends on that person’s experience. “Tourists who are experienced tourists who do a lot of tourism, they know, but tourists who are novices in tourism, you know, who are doing tourism for the first time, they probably don’t.” 

When asked what things the industry could do better to help it’s workers Ms. Rainey answered “I think it would be better if the city regulated tourism in a more thoughtful way. Regulation doesn’t have to be heavy handed and cruel, it can be perfectly reasonable and affable, just, it needs to be diligent and involve follow through which the city has a hard time [with].” She also thinks that the things that would benefit the rest of New Orleans citizens, like better public transit, would be things that benefit all New Orleans citizens. She also adds,With so many employees that have recently been laid off due to Covid 19, the tourism economy has taken a big hit. Mike R says that this is going to be devastating to people. “Unemployment compensation in no way replaces actual income, it’s bare subsistence,” he says.

In an article from nola.com, by Jeff Adelson, it is said that this hit to the tourism and hospitality industry will also be affecting the Sewage & Water Board (S&WB). The article states, “In a wide-ranging press conference Thursday afternoon, Cantrell… said the S&WB could “potentially” be facing bankruptcy and warned about the massive projected loss in sales tax revenue as a result of rules shutting down bars and restaurants and orders for residents to stay home.” This quote shows that this hit to tourism not only affects that industry, but that other parts of the economy are reliant on it. In fact, the S&WB may be leaning off the back of the hospitality industry more than we realize since the article also states, “The agency, which was close to running out of money in 2018, had stabilized its finances in part with money from an infrastructure deal Cantrell struck with the city’s hospitality industry.”         

“…It’ll hurt a lot of people….” Ms. Rainey says, but she has a positive note. “New Orleans has got a tourist appeal that has been in existence since the beginning of New Orleans… it will bounce back.”   

 

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