New Orleans is a fun spot: that’s the message state and local tourism officials hope to send football fans here to see the Saints finish their uplifting regular season or next week’s college bowl game between LSU and Notre Dame.
The “Fun Spots” campaign comes as some local businesses struggle to stay open and tourism officials look for new ways to draw visitors back to this hurricane-hit city in droves. It allows businesses, from restaurants and shops to bars and other hangouts with big-screen TVs, to designate themselves fun spots with special signs or promotions.
“We’re trying to get the message out to the nation, in general, that New Orleans is a great place to come and celebrate the holiday weekend, and you can be part of the ongoing recovery,” said Mary Beth Romig, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The success of the city’s once-woeful Saints has brought New Orleans valuable TV exposure, the likes of which tourism officials otherwise could not afford, “to show New Orleans is alive and well,” she said. If the Saints go far in the playoffs, that exposure could pay huge dividends for the city, she said.
The playoff-bound Saints play Sunday, creating a challenge for tourism officials to extend the holiday weekend from three days to five — to Wednesday, when the Sugar Bowl is played.
Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis told reporters Thursday that he’s giving his players more free time than they had for a previous bowl game, because “part of being in New Orleans is the experience of being in New Orleans.
“And I think that you can’t just come down here and be just all work and no play, because then you really don’t get rewarded for the fact you made it to a (bowl) game, like the Sugar Bowl,” he said. The team also planned to take part in a community service project Thursday.
Mark Wilson, president of the French Quarter Business Association, said he expects Monday to be relatively slow, after the Saints game against the Panthers and what traditionally has been a raucous New Year’s Eve in the tourist-haven Quarter.
Wilson expects business will be “very good” Tuesday and Wednesday and for hotels here to average about 80 percent occupancy for the Sugar Bowl. He hopes retailers in the Quarter — some of which have been struggling since Hurricane Katrina hit the tourist trade — are able to cash in.
He said he hoped for a strong contingent of Notre Dame fans but worries that many people still think of New Orleans as under water. It isn’t, though some neighborhoods are still virtual wastelands following the storm.