Tourism leaders anxious to restart activity, uncertain about Mardi Gras 2021 

File photo of the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade.

As businesses begin to prepare for phase one of a staged reopening this weekend, the state’s tourism leaders are encouraging Louisiana residents to get out and begin enjoying outdoor attractions, events and activities.

At a virtual meeting of the Resilient Louisiana Commission’s hospitality and tourism task force, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said he will announce a campaign Wednesday to incentivize visitors to book overnight stays at state parks. Under the plan, everyone who books three nights will get a fourth night free.

“We will give you an extra night stay if you book three nights to encourage people to get outdoors and hopefully support our restaurants and everything that will be open in phase one,” Nungesser said, adding that, “it’s so important everyone obey the rules (of phase one) so we can quickly get to phase two.”

Tourism officials in Lake Charles, meanwhile, are preparing for a sporting event this weekend, the first in two months.  

“There was a previously scheduled (Little League) tournament, so that will take place this weekend in Lake Charles,” said Kyle Edmiston, president of the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Hopefully some folks will be able to take advantage of the limited dining opportunities and get their kids out and participate at a safe distance.”

Under the phase one guidelines announced Monday by Gov. John Bel Edwards, non-contact sports and sporting events are allowed, provided spectators are limited to 25% of the total capacity of the venue.

But while tourism leaders are, understandably, anxious to restart an industry that plays such a critical role in the state’s economy, they’re also dealing with a difficult and unprecedented crisis, as the comments of other task force members indicated.

Mark Romig, senior vice president of New Orleans and Company, said his committee has had meetings to discuss the future of Mardi Gras—not just in New Orleans but statewide. Krewes will need to know by later this summer whether they’ll be able to hold balls and parades for Carnival 2021.

“There really isn’t an answer yet,” Romig said. “It’s too early to make a recommendation. There is a general feeling we will need to provide some sort of guidance to organizations throughout the state some point later this summer so they can make appropriate plans. If there is not going to be an opportunity (to parade) … they need to know.”

Similarly, task force chairman Kyle France, who chairs the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, better known as the Superdome Commission, said discussions are going on about whether events, including Saints games, can be held this fall and, if so, what kind of measures have to be put in place.

“Various plans have been put forth,” he said. “But there’s nothing we can go forward with yet.”

While it’s still too early to map out what the future of the state’s tourism, events and festivals calendar will look like for the remainder of 2020 and 2021, at least one group is optimistic.

Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, said the Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association—which promotes and coordinates Mardi Gras celebration in the Lafayette area—is moving forward with its plans for Mardi Gras 2021 and sees no reason to change them.

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