Are tourism dollars really helping New Orleans residents?

(Thinkstock)
↓ Advertisement ↓

NEW ORLEANS -- There is no underestimating the importance of tourism dollars to the city, but is the money really helping residents?

One study says despite tourists spending more money, people who live and work in the city remain poor.

Just ask Christian Davenport, whose livelihood depends greatly on visitors. 

"The magnolia are born to bathe her beauty," a line from Davenport's latest poem commissioned by a traveler from Poland.

↓ Advertisement ↓

Davenport is just one of the few poets on Royal Street.  In five years, he said he's seen more business, enough that it's helped him move to do more. 

"There's no other place I can set up and write poetry and make a living and then not only a sustainable living but to invest in my own craft and end up in a place like this," he said.

He now manages Annunciation Hall, a space for fellow poets that's available for wedding rentals on weekends. 

The rise he sees has been calculated in the latest research from the University of New Orleans. In fact, 2016 set a record for the number of visitors, not seen since, before Katrina. 

"We never expected it to fly up to 10.45 million this year," said John Williams, Dean of the College of Business, and Director for the University's Hospitality Research Center. 

Last year tourists spent $7.4 billion; the year before it wasn't too far behind.  Perhaps the irony in all this is, according to the latest US Census, 1 in 4 people in New Orleans are considered poor. 

"Stop telling people everything is okay," said Betty Thomas.

Despite the tourism dollars, Thomas said thousands are still struggling to afford food, especially in New Orleans East where natural disasters have battered residents. 

"When you watch the news, and what's going on in New Orleans, people think it's fine. Everybody is back since Katrina we have recovered from the BP Spill, and that is not the case," said Thomas.

Professor John Williams who directed UNO's latest study estimates 30 new hotels and development are planned that should bring not only entry level but long term high paying management jobs.

"I think we're going to see some changes in the unemployment rate," said Williams.

Another question is where does all that money go? There's no one recipient; it's a combination of companies, local business, with sales tax going to the city. 

"Those owners are able to pay me and pay other performers to perform," said Davenport.

Even so, artists like Davenport believe things can only improve.