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New Orleans & Firm could have a brand new president and CEO on January 1. Walt Leger III might be changing Stephen Perry, who has been within the position for 20 years. He needs the vacation spot advertising group to embrace a extra direct-to-consumer technique and take extra dangers with rising applied sciences.

A lawyer by commerce, he served within the Louisiana Home of Representatives for 12 years, six of which he was as speaker professional tempore. He joined New Orleans & Firm in 2020 as normal counsel and as govt vice chairman of strategic affairs. He was appointed final December by the board to succeed Perry.

On this dialog with Skift, Leger talks about New Orleans’ restoration, his direct-to-consumer advertising technique, the town’s relationship with worldwide markets, why his legislative expertise might be helpful in at this time’s political local weather and the way New Orleans might be resilient in opposition to the following Katrina. The feedback have been edited for size and readability.

Skift: I truly visited New Orleans in February of 2020, when Mardi Gras was simply ending. As I used to be leaving, I keep in mind listening to about Covid as merely the flu. Subsequent factor you realize, the world shuts down. What occurred to New Orleans after I left?

Walt Leger III:  Covid was devastating. To make issues worse, initially the information experiences have been that New Orleans and that Mardi Gras was type of an excellent spreader kind occasion that basically kicked this factor off. These sorts of articles that set us up in an much more tough place. Because it performed out, it went in every single place. It was occurring to the entire world. 

We went from roughly 100,000 workers within the sector all the way down to under 50,000 on the top of Covid, so greater than 50 p.c unemployed. We misplaced 80 p.c of our income for a time frame, which speaks to the dramatic discount. In 2019, we had roughly $10 billion in direct spending related to our guests, and with tourism. That quantity went all the way down to about $2.5 billion in 2020 so it was dramatic. 2021 started some restoration. In fact we had hiccups with variance and different issues that type of shifted the dynamic sometimes. 

Skift: How’s the restoration shaping up?

Leger: Leisure journey has led the best way for us in restoration. I’d guess that once we get to the tip of the yr, our customer numbers are gonna be somewhat bit decrease than 2019 however not considerably and might be near what they have been earlier than the pandemic. 

I feel employment’s as much as round 75,000 possibly the final time I noticed it. I feel plenty of companies have adjusted to somewhat bit decrease employment ranges as a result of employment hasn’t been the identical as we’ve come out of the pandemic.

 We’ve had March Insanity Ultimate Fours. We’ve had terribly massive conferences with American Most cancers, Analysis and Society for Human Sources. The truth is, our assembly calendar this yr might be among the many most strong that we’ve had within the final decade and it’s a very constructive yr for us from a gathering and conference standpoint. 

Walter Leger III Supply: New Orleans & Co.

Skift: You’re taking on a place held by somebody who held it for 20 years. How are you taking issues in a distinct path?

Leger:  We’re gonna maintain promoting our most essential asset, which is our folks and our nice metropolis. However the way you try this? I feel that continues to alter. And so our focus is gonna be on working to drive public relations assist and third celebration verifier assist for the town in a manner that is a bit more aggressive than now we have previously. As a result of I really feel that that tells a stronger story that interprets extra to folks than than does conventional industrial or conventional advertising.

I feel that individuals are are consuming content material in a manner that’s that in ways in which proceed to evolve however in ways in which additionally usually contain a phone or a pc or an iPad or another digital gadget and so our artistic groups attempting to be actually centered on producing new and contemporary content material at a daily degree versus type of a model industrial that you just attempt to run on linear TV working extra, though we’ve spent loads of time centered on social media work and extra on digital house and, and attempting to remain engaged within the latest developments like NFTS, and Net 3.0 and attempting to capitalize on these issues. 

One of many issues that we put into place this yr, for instance, which I’m actually pleased with is we developed an excellent model marketing campaign, we name it Plus One. New Orleans is throwing the world’s best ceremonial dinner and we’re inviting you to hitch us. And it’s, it’s basically a bunch of wonderful, New Orleans round a dinner desk, simply having a good time with one another. However what we additionally did was we filmed it in digital actuality in VR and so there’s an eight minute VR part that we’ve hooked up to it. That’s additionally working and provides you somewhat bit deeper, dive into a few of these people and likewise workers, this new expertise that’s persevering with to emerge. And the rationale we wished to do this was simply to type of spotlight the innovation that’s occurring in our metropolis.

Skift: What’s a giant technique shift you’ve deliberate?

Leger: For a very long time worldwide journey gross sales has actually been finished by way of journey professionals, journey brokers and those that ebook journey on behalf of worldwide guests. I feel there’s lots in plenty of house with the expertise obtainable at this time to do extra direct to shopper advertising internationally and attempt to work extra with worldwide influencers and different social media alternatives to advertise our vacation spot in order that we will create some demand. I feel that previously, we’ve needed to focus our efforts on particular locations the place you possibly can have the perfect (return on funding) ROI. I feel that we will experiment somewhat bit extra with some direct to shopper internationally and hopefully create a brand new dynamic.

One of many issues I envision is New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and persevering with to provide among the most well-known jazz musicians on the planet and likewise spin off music from that style, our artists are touring all around the world on a regular basis and so, you realize, attempting to work intently with them to make the most of their social media presence whereas they’re overseas, and permit them to each promote themselves and for us to amplify them. 

And educating folks about what New Orleans is it’s actually not on the highest of each worldwide traveler’s listing, however there are various who aspire to it, and we all know that a lot of them come to it by way of music. And so we’re gonna work actually arduous to be centered on music, particularly internationally. For instance, we all know that the Japanese are large supporters and lovers of jazz. And and so previous to the pandemic, we had plenty of success in Japan as a result of folks actually wished to be right here and expertise it and in actual life and and in order that hasn’t returned almost as shortly as we like as Asia continues to type of wrestle on on worldwide journey, however I’m sure that’ll be again and we’ll be renewing our efforts and I’m additionally hopeful that we will establish among the prime jazz golf equipment on the planet and, and discover some direct shopper methods to work with them, to be speaking to their clientele and their particular cities and international locations and, and making a draw. A purpose, a contest, another, you realize, manner of encouraging folks to come back expertise at first hand. And I feel realizing the eagerness that folks have for our metropolis and attempting to faucet into it will likely be an attention-grabbing problem internationally however I feel it’s very doable and one thing nicely well worth the effort.

Skift: Everybody is aware of New Orleans within the U.S., however I didn’t comprehend it had a global fame as journey vacation spot past the Francophone international locations.

Leger: Yeah, I imply we’re gonna construct upon it. The truth is, we’re gonna need to rebuild it. In 2019, we had near one million worldwide guests come. New Orleans is the type of metropolis that for many worldwide guests, they’re gonna come on their second go to to the USA, not their first.  They’re gonna go to New York on their first go to. We perceive that. 

There are lots of people who’ve plenty of connections to our metropolis. These are largely, as you referenced, gonna be folks from Canada. Lots of the folks from Louisiana in Louisiana, the Cajuns which are usually known as, have been basically run out of Canada, and plenty of of them have been of French descent, however they have been Canadians. And so the connection now we have with Canada could be very sturdy. Not surprisingly, Canada and Mexico are our largest customer companions since they’re proper right here in North America. 

However the UK follows fairly intently after that. France can also be in that blend. Germany is in that blend and Australia increasingly has develop into a significant accomplice of ours, from the worldwide perspective, somewhat bit additional flight, however that was turning into a fairly sturdy partnership earlier than the pandemic. And we’re gonna look to reestablish that as we transfer ahead. We’ve had some longest partnerships internationally with representatives in every of the international locations I simply referenced and we’re type of renewing these proper now, as a result of worldwide journey has been a lot slower to get well. 

I serve on the chief committee for the U.S. Journey Affiliation, and one in all our main focuses is attempting to resolve a few of these delays and visa wait instances. So 300-400 days simply to get an interview to your visa proper now. I imply that alone is slowing down worldwide journey and the pandemic and restoration from the pandemic. 

Good instance, in December, now we have a significant occasion coming in for docs, the American Society of Hematology. It’s such a major occasion each domestically and internationally that Air France is bringing in two direct flights from Paris to usher in attendees for that assembly. And so in consequence, New Orleans are attempting to make the most of the empty aircraft on the best way again on the identical time. We could have a pleasant uptick on the finish of the yr of docs, notably from France, right here for the Hematology Convention. One of many issues gradual in assembly rebirth is worldwide journey too. So we’re going to maintain working actually arduous on the U.S. Journey degree to repair a few of these visa points as a result of we want worldwide journey to start out up once more.

Skift: You’ve labored 12 years as a legislator. How will your legislative expertise turn out to be useful within the new position?

Leger: One of many difficult issues within the nation proper now’s that there are political points that are likely to have an effect on the decision-making course of for the place individuals are going to have conferences. Whether or not it’s one thing relative to a social justice concern or one thing relative to the Dobbs determination with Roe v Wade being overturned, medical teams and others are making choices primarily based on completely different political ramifications. And so with the ability to converse to these issues is actually an asset and with the ability to speak that by way of and I feel understanding the interplay between politics and companies isn’t a foul factor both, as a result of the 2 are so intertwined. 

I’m proud to say that when the hematologists advised that they’d some considerations in regards to the abortion legal guidelines within the state of Louisiana that we have been in a position to have their management come into our state, sit down with me and with the governor and to really speak by way of the problem and have them advocate for the change that they wished. 

They instructed us if they might have chosen to not go ahead with our assembly, they by no means would have had this chance to deeply have interaction in public coverage, and attempt to make issues higher. And so, I feel we succeeded in what we mentioned we have been gonna attempt to do, which was create a voice for you and a manner so that you can advocate for the change you need. 

Great thing about journey on the whole as a result of what journey is finally about is about bringing folks collectively, pulling down obstacles, serving to folks perceive each other extra and studying about different communities and studying from one another. 

And so I hate the truth that within the present surroundings you’ve people who find themselves desirous to boycott a venue or boycott a metropolis due to a coverage. I imply, I’m simply a type of folks that thinks you’re simply so a lot better off going and attempting to effectuate change than staying away since you disagree with it. I perceive what the thought course of is and I wish to have the influence and ship a message. I simply assume that there’s a stronger strategy to be proactive about your engagement and and never reactive in your engagement. 

And so I’m enthusiastic about attempting to maintain constructing that that dialog and serving to folks to discover a path for his or her voice to be heard as a result of it seems a lot of my passions which is attempting to alter issues for the higher but in addition defending our metropolis from, you realize, for a lot of negativity that might come from from issues exterior of our management.

Skift: Given the influence of Katrina and the town’s geographic place, how ready is the vacation spot for future hurricanes and local weather change-related pure disasters?

Leger:  We don’t need to go that far again to recollect Hurricane Katrina and what that did to the town of New Orleans that was 2005, I imply, it was a very long time in the past now nevertheless it stays contemporary and other people’s recollections. These photos don’t actually go away. And so what, one thing that I’m actually pleased with is that in response to Hurricane Katrina. The state of Louisiana created a coastal grasp plan, a plan for a sustainable coast that mainly known as for $50 billion to be invested over 50 years to rebuild the shoreline and, and to protect and shield the shoreline that we at present have. 

Now, we’re in a race, you realize,  sea degree rising and different issues are impacting that. However we’ve been implementing that program for the final a number of years, and it’s the perfect program of its type anyplace within the nation and possibly on the planet as a result of it’s not a political course of. It’s a science pushed course of. However what’s additionally occurs since Katrina is the the U.S. federal authorities has invested in partnership with the state $16 billion to construct an enormous flood safety wall after which one other $40 to $50 billion on on flood safety and hurricane danger discount buildings round our metropolis. And so final yr we obtained hit by Hurricane Aida which was roughly equal in some methods to the scale of Katrina and we had a convention in New Orleans, 9 days later.

Right here, the hurricanes danger discount system that’s been constructed right here it’s labored and so we actually had neighboring communities that suffered lots final yr. And I don’t wish to diminish that in any manner as a result of our group as a complete, you realize, you realize, will proceed to be topic to these type of storms sooner or later. However the danger discount system that was designed and carried out and constructed. Right here it labored final yr. It proved that we’re working in the direction of a constructive answer on that.