Louisiana's lieutenant governor has made it his mission to be visible through travel, but some question whether that money would be better spent on things like state parks, which are in danger of closing due to lack of funds.
Billy Nungesser has spent $27,334.49 on travel from the time he took office in January 2016 to March 2017.
Travel made up 1.2 percent of his total budget his first year in office.
It's a small percentage and not out of the ordinary for his position, although it is more than his predecessor spent on such trips.
Perhaps it is the cost of doing business as the state's promoter. And he's not alone.
Others with the Louisiana Office of Tourism also use state funds to cover similar trips, big and small, totaling about $162,000 in the fiscal year that just ended.
Nungesser said he is proud of the time he's spent traveling in his position, seeing it as his way of "bringing more people to the table," which to him is worth every penny.
"Last year I gave 186 speeches," he said. "So far (in June) I've done 210. ... It's hard to say no to these people who love and have passion for what they do. People who felt they were not involved is some decisions now have a seat at the table."
He goes beyond state lines, too. Last year's $18,195.02 for travel was before his trips this spring to Washington, D.C., and Paris.
It's not unusual for a lieutenant governor to go outside the state he represents.
Nungesser's predecessor went on 13 out-of-state trips and three out-of-the-country from 2012 to 2015, according to figures provided by the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
Nungesser has spent more on travel, though.
In 14 months, he has spent two-thirds of the amount Jay Dardenne spent in three years, according to these figures.
From 2012 to 2015, Dardenne spent $37,363.99 on travel. His expenses ranged from less than $100 on a trip to Alexandria to $6,300 for Brussels and Paris.
Although much of his travel was across the state he represented, his three trips outside the U.S. took him to Canada, Belgium and France, and the United Kingdom and Germany.
Nungesser’s two out-of-country trips took him to Canada and Paris.
Nungesser has had more out-of-state trips (14 total) in half the time of Dardenne. He has been to D.C. six times, compared to Dardenne's three.
The Office of Lieutenant Governor’s total budget is $1,404,670, which breaks down into $887,716 from the state general fund and $516,954 transferred from other agencies.
Although Nungesser is the chief tourism official for Louisiana, he isn't the only one traveling to promote the state.
His office oversees the state Department of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, and in turn, the Louisiana Office of Tourism and other agencies in that department.
The Louisiana Office of Tourism is funded through fees and self-generated revenues derived from the Louisiana Tourism Promotion District. The district receives 3/100 of one cent of the state sales and use tax.
It then forwards the funds to the Louisiana Office of Tourism for the promotion and marketing of the state as a tourist destination.
Nearly $24.9 million is appropriated from the promotion district, and the Office of Tourism gets about $17.5 million of that.
The Office of Tourism’s travel expenses totaled $162,289.39 in fiscal year 2017, up $32,000 over the previous year but only slightly above expenses in 2014 and 2015.
The drop in 2016 likely is due to savings from hosting the U.S. Travel Association’s annual international marketplace and trade show in New Orleans that year. As host, the state organization did not have to pay registration fees
The $162,000 in travel expenses for Office of Tourism staff was a little more than 9 percent of the office's $17.5 million budget.
Annual Office of Tourism expenses include trips to the annual Lt. Governor's Tourism Summit, which rotates to different locations around Louisiana each year; National Tour Association annual conference; site visits to state welcome centers, which are operated through the office; and sales missions.
A sales mission to large cities or other countries involves meetings with tourism operators and travel agents in which representatives talk about what Louisiana has to offer so the agents can create packages and sell them to clients.
Sales missions have taken staff to places like Mexico City, New York, Milan, Canada, Frankfurt and London since 2012. A few people attend each mission, according to travel expense figures from the Office of Tourism.
The office also invites folks to see the state for themselves. Familiarization tours bring travel media, tour operators and travel agents to Louisiana to get a sense of the state.
“When journalists, tour operators and travel agents experience a destination first-hand, they are able to better relay information to their readers and clients,” Director of Communications Barry Landry said. “Since their jobs involve dispersing information to large numbers of people, this is a valuable tool.”
Return on investment
Nungesser's office reports that Louisiana's tourism industry is worth $16.8 billion, with 46.7 million visitors each year sustaining more than 231,500 direct and indirect jobs.
"One out of every 8.6 Louisiana workers depends on the state's tourism industry for their economic livelihood," according to the Louisiana Office of Tourism 2016 Annual Report.
The report states that Louisiana's return on investment when it comes to tourism is about 40 to 1 — the $1.04 billion in tax revenue it produces divided by the Office of Tourism's annual budget.
"Without (tax revenue from tourism), every Louisiana household would have to pay an extra $601 in state taxes each year" to maintain revenues, according to the report.
And the industry seems to be growing. The number of visitors to Louisiana in 2016 was up 2.57 percent over the previous year, and the amount of state tax revenues they generated was up 23.4 percent over 2015.
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2018. All Rights Reserved