What’s in store for the future of New Orleans tourism?

LaFitte%27s+Blacksmith+Bar%2C+a+popular+tourist+spot+and+one+of+the+oldest+bars+in+America%2C+has+its+doors+shuttered...for+now.+Pic+by+Veronika+Lee

LaFitte’s Blacksmith Bar, a popular tourist spot and one of the oldest bars in America, has its doors shuttered…for now. Pic by Veronika Lee

Emma Seely, Managing Editor

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has recently extended the city’s stay at home order to at least May 16 to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Although Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has said that state restrictions may begin to loosen as soon as May 1, Cantrell has decided to wait until infection data more clearly shows a downward trend in the city. While New Orleans business leaders and politicians work towards a plan to open the city back for business without endangering public health, many workers in New Orleans’s extensive tourism industry are worried that the damage is already done. 

“I think the stasis of the tourism industry will force people to abandon New Orleans, even though the pandemic is everywhere,” says Taylor Amalfitano, a New Orleans bartender and graduate student at UNO. “The poor infrastructure and lack of support for its residents leave New Orleans in a terrible position to regain its footing in an uncertain future.”

As a veteran bartender in the city, Amalfitano is in a better position than most. Her employer of four years, the Black Duck Bar, which is located on the second floor of the Dickie Brennan and Company owned Palace Cafe, has furloughed her indefinitely. Many of her co workers, who haven’t been with the company as long, have been let go with as little as one day’s notice. 

Jessica Staricka, another UNO graduate student, was let go from her job at a French Quarter hotel. Although her employer has estimated they will reopen in May, she knows that it could be much longer before she, a more junior employee, gets her job back. And even if the hotel is able to open in May, Staricka points out that it might take a while for business to return to normal. 

“The hotel is missing out on two or more months of income now while it’s closed, and is facing a summer where virtually every event that normally brings tourism to New Orleans is cancelled,” she says. “It might take until next spring for the hotel’s occupancy to return to normal. If things really pick up before then, I’ll be very pleasantly surprised.”

As both Amalfitano and Staricka mention, things will be different even after the threat of the virus is gone. People may still be scared of getting the virus, especially in a “hot spot” like New Orleans, and choose to go out less and limit travel. Post quarantine, funds may be too low to spend money on luxuries like vacations or expensive cocktails. And, there may even be a second wave of the virus that shuts businesses back down. 

For a city that relies as heavily on tourism as New Orleans, this slow return to normalcy could be disastrous for business owners and employees alike. While both Staricka and Amalfitano note that they are able to survive thanks to savings and other part time positions, this has not been the case for all workers. Even things such as unemployment, or even pooled efforts from groups like the restaurant community, can only go so far to provide workers with enough to survive here.  

“We all lost our health insurance and livelihoods, and many of my work friends have children,” says Amalfitano. “Some people still haven’t gotten unemployment and are barely surviving on the kindness of others. The restaurant community has been very supportive, and many companies have simply given away their leftover food to their employees—but these makeshift soup kitchens have nothing left to give. We’re all just sitting and waiting for the future to develop, for better or for worse. Many people have already left town for better opportunities or to stay with their families when left with no other options.”

Even though this future may be bleak, UNO students can lessen the tourism industry’s burden, and that of its workers, by supporting local business as soon as it is safe to do so. Once the city is opened back up, students can spend the slow summer months taking tours, going to museums and enjoying typical New Orleans attractions like airboat rides or ghost tours. And even as the stay at home order continues, students can support local industry by ordering food or getting takeout. 

“Once the city opens back up, UNO students can help make up for slow tourism by… acting like tourists!” says Staricka. “That could help make up for some of the lost income from tourism that the city depends on so much.”