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Tourism industry looks positively to 2022 as officials monitor new variant

At the New Orleans Convention Center, there are no signs of a lingering pandemic. The WorkBoat convention is back, 9,000 people strong.

NEW ORLEANS — For the past two years, COVID severely damaged the New Orleans tourism industry. Many in the hospitality business lost their jobs.

So what is the forecast for 2022? And is the new variant of concern?

People in the tourism business are monitoring the situation but are not too concerned about Omicron affecting travel to New Orleans. They say 83% of adults in the city are vaccinated, and they are in constant communication with the many groups signing to come back. But if you need a job, there are plenty.

At the New Orleans Convention Center, there are no signs of a lingering pandemic. The WorkBoat convention is back, 9,000 people strong.

“No, I wasn't necessarily hesitant with the measures that are in place. I think it's actually really good. It's been a long time that you actually physically meet people,” said a conventioneer.

“Well, it feels good to be here for sure. It feels like a lifetime ago. It's been a while since we've traveled,” said another person at the convention.

Another group of 15,000 is coming next week, and next year is looking even better.

“We normally have, in a normal year pre-pandemic, 125 events a year. Next year we have about 100 events. Over 800,000 people coming, the low 800,000's. A normal year is in the high 800,000s,” said Mike Sawaya, President of the New Orleans Convention Center.

Sawaya said there is a lot of pent-up demand. Conventions that would normally book years in advance are scheduling big gatherings in just a few weeks.

“It's really kind of exciting to see activity in our building again,” said Sawaya.

And while the Convention Center was ready to go at full staff because it never laid off any of its 400 employees, the hospitality industry in the city is a different matter. There are 25,000 job openings.

“We still have jobs that have to be filled, so that we can be fully activated as the great host city that we are,” said Mark Romig, Chief Marketing Officer of New Orleans & Company.

Romig says leisure travel is slowly getting back to normal. It won't be the same as 2019. That was a benchmark year. There were 20 million visitors, spending $10 billion. Recently, 2020 and 2021 were of course lost to the pandemic and Delta surge, but there's optimism mixed with a dose of hope.

A tourism ad with Grammy Nominee Jon Batiste, made in 2019, is finally being rolled out across the region to attract visitors. And the big-ticket items are coming back.

“We do know we have a late Mardi Gras. We have a Navy Week coming back. We have the spring festivals coming back. We have the final four again. You've got new hotels opening up.

And then the National World War II museum has a spectacular new exhibit that will open up. Essence is back. They'll be back here, so we're hopeful,” said Romig.

And back in 1977, 800,000 people came to NOMA in City Park for the King Tut exhibit. The entire street was painted in shades of blue like the River Nile. You waited in line for hours.

And next year they are expecting an exhibit just as big. Queen Nefertari's Egypt, March 18th - July 17th, with some of the most magnificent monuments of ancient Egypt.

Click here to find a job in the hospitality field.

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