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New Orleans is fun again

/ Source: The Associated Press

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."