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Mardi Gras grows in New Orleans

Initial reports say the crowds at New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations yesterday appeared larger than last year, when an estimated 700,000 people were in the city for the final three days of parades and parties. This year, the city's 30,000 hotel rooms were 95 percent occupied, according to Fred Sawyers, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association.

The good news comes on top of the launch last month of an aggressive marketing, public relations and direct sales campaign by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. The plan is designed to celebrate the city's culture, lure domestic and international visitors back in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, preserve the city’s vital hospitality industry and overcome apprehensions about New Orleans, such as street crime.

The campaign includes “Forever New Orleans,” an international branding campaign marking a major shift in New Orleans hospitality marketing, stressing its unique, authentic elements.

Also, a new series of advertisements will debut in outdoor and print campaigns. Using headlines such as “New Orleans is Open ... To Just About Anything," “Soul is Waterproof," “Old World, New Promise” and other phrases, the advertising campaign is designed to celebrate a spirit of swagger, showcasing the hospitality industry’s confidence in New Orleans as a destination, and appealing to the meetings industry, travel trade professionals and the traveling public.

The CVB says it retained approximately 40 percent of business for 2006 booked before Katrina, with approximately 70 percent of convention and meetings business for 2007 and more than 90 percent for 2008.

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