updated 1/26/2007 7:34:33 PM ET 2007-01-27T00:34:33

New Orleans tourism officials have launched an advertising campaign that uses humor to combat negative impressions of the city and lure visitors 17 months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

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One of the ads, to be used in outdoor and print campaigns, features an interior shot of the city’s Aquarium of the Americas with the caption, "This is the only part of New Orleans that is still underwater."

Another series of images, including partiers on Bourbon Street and a chef kissing a fish, carry the message, "New Orleans is open -- to just about anything."

The ad campaign comes as the city is gearing up for the annual Mardi Gras celebration that features dozens of parades and culminates on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 20.

New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesperson Mary Beth Romig said the humorous ads were part of a campaign to bolster tourism, which has struggled since Katrina laid waste to much of the city on Aug. 29, 2005.

"We have to allow ourselves the permission, a year and a half later, based on what we are hearing from the general public, to take what they are questioning us about and at some times, laugh a little," she said.

The renewal of New Orleans’ convention and tourism industry, which before Katrina pumped an estimated $5.5 billion into the local economy and funded one-third of the city’s operating budget, is key to the city’s recovery.

The storm forced many conventions to cancel, and the number of tourists is far below prior pre-Katrina levels.

Along with questions about the hurricane’s lingering effects, the city is struggling with a widespread, and perhaps more damaging, image as a place where crime is out of control.

New Orleans has experienced a spike in violent crime since people began returning to the city in large numbers last year. And so far this year, at least 14 people have been murdered.

Romig said her agency receives dozens of calls each day from potential tourists worried about the crime problem, many of whom have canceled vacation plans.

At a news conference on Friday, Mayor Ray Nagin outlined steps police have taken in recent days to battle violent crime, including more foot patrols and the installation of crime cameras in parts of the city, including oak-lined St. Charles Avenue, where throngs gather to watch Mardi Gras parades.

"To the visitors that are coming here, we want you to understand that we are doing everything that is in our power to make this a safer city," Nagin said.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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