The number of visitors to New Orleans increased from 7.1 million in 2007 to 7.6 million in 2008, and spending levels increased from $4.8 billion in 2007 to $5.1 billion in 2008, according to a survey conducted by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

New Orleans’ hospitality industry leaders are being cautiously optimistic about the findings and predictions for 2009, citing that the U.S. economic environment changed radically at the end of 2008.

“It is encouraging that our aggressive sales, marketing, public relations, branding and advocacy work has resulted in increased visitor spending, and annual visitor numbers that are closer to pre-Katrina levels of 8.5 million,” said J. Stephen Perry, President and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. “New Orleans has more convention business booked for 2009 compared to 2008, and great values and special events to attract leisure visitors this year. However, the national environment for leisure and business travel, as well as attendance at our booked meetings, remains extremely unpredictable. We must continue our work to secure funding for marketing and promotion, help build attendance for meetings and conventions and create compelling reasons for visitors to choose New Orleans.”

Sandy Shilstone, President and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation said, “Our industry recognized early on that a value message was more important than ever to prospective visitors who were reacting to high gas prices and turbulent markets. As a result, free festivals and event driven marketing became the cornerstone of our campaign to attract leisure visitors. While other destinations suffered, New Orleans was one of the very few tourist destinations to actually increase visitation in 2008. The numbers were up overall with many of the city's greatest festivals enjoying record-breaking attendances. Our calendar, like our po-boys, was overstuffed in 2008, and our efforts paid off.”

Tourism in New Orleans employs 78,000 people and generates $5 billion in visitor spending.

The 2008 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile report showed:
· 90.8 percent of respondents indicated they would be likely or very likely to recommend New Orleans as a destination to family and friends, an increase over 2007 (88 percent).
· Visitors who came for the purpose of Vacation/Pleasure spent an average of $598 per trip, or $165 per day in 2008. While visitors who came for the purpose of an Association/Convention/Tradeshow spent an average of $940 per trip, or $210 per day in 2008.
· Overnight visitors stayed an average of 4.6 nights in 2008, an increase over 3.8 nights in 2007.
· 75.1 percent of visitors came for vacation/ pleasure, 9.8 percent came for a convention/trade show and 15.1 percent came for corporate meeting/business.
· The percentage of visitors in the $75,000 income category and above grew to 52 percent in 2008, compared to 45.3 percent in 2007.
· More than 76 percent of visitors were age 35 and older. There also was a sizeable increase in the 25 to 34 year-old age group.
· The proportion of business visitors who extended their stay for pleasure remained exactly the same as 2007 (44.9 percent) with an average extension of two nights.
· In 2008, 89.5 percent of visitors reported visiting the French Quarter, 87.2 percent of visitors reported eating in restaurants, 71.9 percent reported shopping and 70.4 percent reported visiting the French Market.

The number of visitors to the New Orleans area for 2008 was determined using Smith Travel data and the results of several studies. All data sources were combined to create a data set that included 7,235 observations of visitation to New Orleans. A separate survey was administered to New Orleans hoteliers to determine an accurate mix of visitors to New Orleans. Finally, in an effort to correct for any biases, the data set was weighted using the visitor mix indicated in the hotelier survey.