Tourism leaders say 2013 could return to pre-Katrina numbers - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Tourism leaders say 2013 could return to pre-Katrina numbers

New Orleans, La. - Tourism officials say New Orleans may hit a visitor milestone in 2013 not reached since the year before Hurricane Katrina.

That push is getting a big assist from the Sugar Bowl this week, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu says more money could make the tourist picture even brighter.

Visitors have come from all over the country, and this week, there's a lot of them from Kentucky and Florida.

"There's no where like it. I don't even feel like I'm in America," said Florida tourist Lynn Watson.

Travel and leisure readers rate New Orleans number one, and now Sugar Bowl visitors are finding out for themselves.

"I think everyone is friendly and nice. I wouldn't change a thing," said Walter Ratterman from Kentucky.

2013 could see the city hit a long awaited milestone not reached since before Katrina.

"We're hoping to do that. We have a strategic plan in place that could bring us to pre-Katrina, and higher," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

That would mean the most visitors to New Orleans since 2004 after years of steady tourism increases.

"Right before Katrina we were at ten million people. 2011 had 8.75 million. 2012 was nine million and we are trending back," said Mark Romig with the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation.

Even though 2013 could be a record year, the mayor says with a little more marketing money it could be even better.

Last year, an effort to create a new $40 million marketing fund fell short after objections were raised regarding accountability.

At this point, the mayor is not sure about a new push for more dollars.

"I'm going to wait to see how the legislature shapes up," said Landrieu. "We also have to keep working on disqualifiers. Crime continues to be a problem and schools have to be better."

Either way the city is expecting more visitors this year than it's had in nearly a decade helping support nearly 75,000 jobs.

"I love it. It's my first time here," said Lindsay Yergan from Nashville.

And many say they will be back.

Tourism leaders say not only is the visitor count up, but they say those visitors are individually spending more than ever.

And the city will net even more exposure in just over a month for the Super Bowl when 5,000 members of the media from all over the world will come to town to witness what they call the granddaddy of all tourist events in the U.S.

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