Tourism leaders say the COVID-19 vaccine could be key to bringing back big events, travelers

According to the CDC, Louisiana is the third lowest state in the country when it comes to the number of people who’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

NEW ORLEANS — Doctors hope resumption in the use of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will help increase Louisiana’s comparatively low vaccination rate. 

Joining the call for more people to get vaccinated is the local tourism industry, which says increased vaccinations will increase the chances of an economic recovery.  Compared to record highs in 2019, New Orleans is seeing a trickle of visitors. 

Rainna Nguyen and Ryan Franks are visiting New Orleans from Atlanta.  In one of their first trips since the pandemic, they noticed different approaches to COVID safety.   

 “We were just in Alabama where we didn’t see a single mask and then we come here and everyone is like put your mask on, which is fine, because we respect it.  It’s just crazy to see how each state is very different and they’re right next to each other,” Rainna Nguyen said. 

The couple said they didn’t feel at risk during their trip, but they certainly saw varying levels of precautions.  

For Louisiana’s multi-billion dollar tourism economy to rebound, Kelly Schulz says it needs two vital elements:  More workers and more people getting vaccinated for COVID-19. 

“You really can’t underestimate it.  It’s so critical for all of us to be able to know that our community is safe and we’re welcoming back people safely,” said Schulz, Senior Vice President for Communication at New Orleans and Company which is the marketing arm of the city’s tourism and hospitality industry.    

According to the CDC, Louisiana is currently the third lowest state in the country when it comes to the number of people who’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  Tourism leaders say that must turnaround if we want to compete with other destinations.

“Now, coming out of a pandemic, every destination in the world is going to be competing for those same visitors.  Those special event organizers are going to be looking for who can do events in the most safe and efficient way,” Kelly Shulz said. 

Under that lens, a high vaccination rate can be a competitive advantage, but Louisiana health officials admit the demand or interest in covid vaccines appears to be slipping.  They say there’s myriad reasons and they’re searching for ways to change that. 

“It’s going to be a harder phase.  It’s going to be a more challenging phase for us.  It’s going to be more work,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter of Louisiana’s Department of Health. 

Some of that work is already taking place at various vaccine events in neighborhoods, bars and churches.  Next week, May 5, New Orleans and Company will host a “job fest” at the Morial Convention Center.  Job seekers will also be able to get a dose of a COVID vaccine since a mass vaccination site is operating at the convention center.  Health leaders in Louisiana have encouraged organizations to get “creative” in encouraging people to consider vaccines.    

“I think vaccination is a good thing, but I think it should be a choice,” Ryan Franks said.    

Franks and his partner say a city’s vaccination rate won’t be a factor in where they’ll travel.  They believe vaccination should be a personal decision.  But when you’re trying to revive an entire region’s economy, vaccines may be the best and only choice. 

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