NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The head of the city's tourism marketing effort says New Orleans is on track to exceed last year's $7.1 billion in tourism spending.
As we head into Bayou Classic weekend, Mark Romig also said there are some trends developing that will bode well for the future, but there are challenges, too.
A band from California that tours the country, played near Jackson Square on Wednesday, and they say when it comes to tourism, there's no place like New Orleans.
"We hang out in Frisco, but this is better than Frisco. They seem to be having a better time here," said band member Ben Hilliard.
The band was out warming up the crowd at Cafe du Monde as the city prepared for Bayou Classic weekend, an event that helps round out the city's tourism pie during a Thanksgiving holiday when most people head for home.
"Hotel occupancy is running at 97 percent for the weekend, which is great," Romig said.
Romig, the head of the city's Tourism Marketing Corporation, said the city is on its way to breaking its previous record of $7.1 billion in direct tourist spending.
"Seven-point-one was 2015, and we are on track to see that grow on average by two percent each year, and we don't see that slowing ," Romig said.
A visitor from Argentina give rave reviews.
"The people, the music, everything," said Vivian Bigio from Buenos Aires.
Next month it's Christmas in New Orleans, the New Orleans Bowl, then the Sugar Bowl, and the NBA All Star game shortly after the first of the year.
"That happens in the first weekend of Mardi Gras, and we are going to spoil them. They will always want a Mardi Gras game," said Romig.
There was also a first-of-its-kind big event invite recently that could be a sign of many more big events to come. Last week, tourism officials announced that the city would get a Final Four game after the NCAA invited New Orleans to submit a non-compete bid, a tribute to the city's reputation for hosting big events.
"We have been cited as the best location in North America for special events," said Romig, who said the challenge ahead will be to protect and enhance the city's infrastructure in order to keep more tourists coming.
Also driving the tourism engine are festivals. Romig said the city currently has 136 of them, and recently added the Taco Festival for late March.