As Baton Rouge fills for big weekend, Visit Baton Rouge promotes staycation for leaner tourism time

While crowds are descending on Baton Rouge for tonight’s Taylor Swift concert at Tiger Stadium and the weekend’s Bayou Country Superfest, officials with Visit Baton Rouge are already looking ahead to later this summer, when tourism activity will not be so robust.

That’s why they’re promoting a staycation prize package for the Independence Day weekend. The Star Spangled Sweepstakes, as the getaway package is called, includes a two-night stay at the Hilton Capitol Center downtown, a tour of the city, complimentary breakfast, gift cards to local restaurants and passes to museums and attractions.

“There is an awful lot in this city to do, and often we overlook how much there is to do,” says VBR President Paul Arrigo. “July 4th is traditionally a slow weekend, but there is enough going on downtown to make it worthwhile to get people down there.”

Part of the idea behind the promotion is also to make locals aware of the city’s tourist attractions so they can pass on that information to friends and family from out of state.

“When you look at the demographics of our visitors, so many are friends and families of locals who come to the area to visit them,” Arrigo says. “So it’s important for the locals to know what there is to do in Baton Rouge.”

In recent years, mid-summer hotel occupancy has been slowly climbing. Last July, it averaged more than 67% for the month, compared to 62% in 2013 and 61% in 2009-2012. Still, with hundreds of new hotel rooms being added to the market, tourism officials want to make sure demand keeps pace with supply.

This is the first year Visit Baton Rouge has sponsored the staycation sweepstakes. If it goes well, the agency may make it an annual giveaway.

Meanwhile, many local hotels are reportedly at or near capacity as tens of thousands of people begin converging in Baton Rouge for the holiday weekend.

“We are seeing a great turnout for this year,” says Ben Blackwell, vice president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association.

Blackwell, general manager of the downtown Hampton Inn and Suites, says his hotel is completely booked for both tonight and Saturday night, adding he cannot speak for occupancy figures at other hotels.

“I think definitely you are seeing a little more people this year due to the fact that you are drawing the two different crowds with the Taylor Swift crowds and the Bayou Country Superfest,” Blackwell says.

Memorial Day weekend hotel occupancies have increased by about 30% in the last five years, growing with each year the music festival has been around, according to Smith Travel Research and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Arrigo says there are still some hotel rooms available for the weekend, but they’re few and far between.

“Because it’s a three-day show, you have people coming and going on different days so it’s like pieces of a puzzle, but there are some rooms left,” Arrigo says.

The LSU campus is expected to be packed today as fans begin flocking to Tiger Stadium for Swift’s second show on her “1989 World Tour,” which kicked off in Bossier City on Wednesday. Mayor Kip Holden’s office issued a press release on Thursday urging concert-goers to arrive on campus early, as traffic is expected to be heavy and many roads surrounding Tiger Stadium will be closed. Also, Capital Area Transit System shuttle buses will not be running for the event.

Be sure to check out the current Business Report cover story on Bayou Country Superfest, which focuses on whether or not Baton Rouge receives an adequate return on its investment in the annual event.

—Stephanie Riegel and Deanna Narveson

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