Photos: Big Easy returns

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  1. Katrina's mess

    A junked car lies near empty houses in the Lakeview neighborhood near the site of the levee breach on the 17th Street Canal, August 29, 2005. More than five months after caused by Hurricane Katrina made landfall, there was little progress in some areas of New Orleans. Today, tours are offered to visitors to have a better understanding of events pre and post Katrina. (David Rae Morris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Big Easy blues

    Costumed revelers dressed as blue roof tarps pose at the annual MOMs Ball, thrown each year by the Krewe of Misfits, Orphans and Mystics in New Orleans. Many of this years Mardi Gras floats and costumes reference the blue tarps that still protect broken roofs across the city after Hurricane Katrina. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Soul sounds

    Jen Pearl (L) and Michelle Loughnane stand under an umbrella with a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 2006. Jazz Fest '07 will be held on April 27-29 and May 4-6. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dancing in the streets

    A member of the Young Olympia Aide and New Look Social Aid and Pleasure Club dances in a second line parade at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jeweled celebration

    Members of the Krewe of Thoth throw beads as they travel down St. Charles Avenue where thousands of revelers showed up to enjoy 2006 Mardi Gras festivities. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is the day before Ash Wednesday, and a celebration of the last the day before the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Mardi Gras 2007 will be observed on Feb. 20. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Eye candy

    Revelers ogle a woman exposing herself on Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras festivities in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Closing time

    Orleans Parish mounted Police Officers march down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter announcing the official end of Mardi Gras 2006. (Sean Gardner / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A shout for freedom

    "Big Chief" Victor Armstrong wears an elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costume. The Indian tradition of Mardi Gras pays homage to the relationship between Native Americans and escaped African slaves of the 1700s. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 4/16/2008 2:41:33 PM ET 2008-04-16T18:41:33

Tourism officials on Tuesday unveiled a $5.7 million advertising campaign with the message that hurricane-ravaged New Orleans is fun again.

The campaign is aimed at bolstering visitation during the slower summer season.

"Come Out and Play" is the theme of ads set to run across a range of mediums, regionally and nationally, even in Times Square, touting the city's music, food and cultural and family attractions. The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. rolled out the campaign with a jazz band and dancers.

It came a day after the release of a survey that showed visitation grew from 3.7 million in 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina, to 7.1 million last year, and on the heels of a series of high-profile events in the city, including college football bowl games, Mardi Gras and the NBA All-Star game.

"We are on some kind of roll this year," Mayor Ray Nagin said, adding that he expects it to continue.

Sandy Shilstone, president and chief executive of the tourism marketing group, hopes it does.

Tourism has been a leading driver of the local economy. But she cited potential problems in attracting visitors in the months ahead, ranging from the slowing U.S. economy and high gas prices to the weak dollar and airline woes. The good news is that those issues are facing cities around the country and New Orleans has selling points — culture, music, a European feel in the touristy French Quarter — that other places don't have, she said.

She said her view on the rest of the year as "cautiously optimistic."

The "Come Out and Play" theme was selected after research showed a desire by people to see New Orleans as fun again, Shilstone said. Since Katrina, tourism officials have tried to sell prospective travelers on the idea that the city is open for business, but they say they've often come up against misperceptions, such as the notion that parts of New Orleans remained under water, concerns about violent crime and misgivings about having a good time when people are still rebuilding their lives.

After pulling off a series of successful events and bringing up tourism numbers, officials now feel they've turned a corner, said Lea Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the Tourism Marketing Corp.

"One of the biggest things we're seeing now is, making sure people understand that it's OK to come and visit and have fun, because you're helping the people who are still struggling," she said. "It's not inappropriate at all."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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