Next stop on Louisiana Civil Rights Trail: Baton Rouge’s Old State Capitol

In the midst of National Travel and Tourism Week, the Louisiana Office of Tourism on Tuesday will unveil a marker at the Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge as part of its new Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.

The 7-foot-tall, steel marker will highlight Baton Rouge’s historical significance as the site of the nation’s first bus boycott in 1953, which attracted more than 14,000 Black residents and inspired the famous Montgomery bus boycott two years later. 

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser believes the marker—which is being unveiled tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., following a spot in New Orleans today and preceding one in Shreveport on Wednesday—will help draw visitors to Baton Rouge at a time when local tourism, like much of the industry nationwide, has struggled over the past year.

“This [National Travel and Tourism Week] is more important than any other,” Nungesser says. “We need to put more resources toward tourism, because we’re competing with every other state.”

His statewide tour comes shortly after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced he was allocating $20 million in American Rescue Plan funding to Nungesser’s office, as well as another $125 million to local tourism, convention and visitors bureaus. 

Nungesser, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2023, says much of his department’s share will go toward paid media outside the state and sponsorships for large events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“We’re going to have to look outside the box and do things we’d never thought about doing to market Louisiana,” says Nungesser, noting the state recently bought the rights to “You Are My Sunshine” and is re-recording the 1939 tune with actor John Goodman and musician Lauren Daigle to promote Louisiana to outsiders.

While Nungesser says the civil rights trail should help boost tourism both statewide and locally, he couldn’t provide an estimated dollar figure for what its overall economic impact would be. However, he plans to track the metric once more markers open up.

Generally, he’s optimistic the state’s tourism industry will recover, pointing to last week’s lifting of the statewide mask mandate as a positive sign.

What’s more, Louisiana is expected to gain 3,413 hotel jobs in 2021, according to figures released today by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, with statewide industry employment projected to grow from 28,993 in 2020 to 32,406 by the end of this year. However, it’s still 5,420 jobs down from the 37,826 hotel jobs that existed statewide in 2019.

Overall, Nungesser anticipates it’ll take another two to three years for Louisiana’s tourism industry as a whole—including Baton Rouge’s—to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Hopefully, we’ll get LSU football back,” Nungesser says. “We’re working on getting some conferences and conventions, and we see the return of the riverboat cruises as an opportunity to help Baton Rouge’s economy.”