Louisiana’s Other Side pivots in 2020

Angel Albring | BIZ. Magazine

The Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau has released its annual report and, nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that tourism was hit especially hard in 2020.

According to a statement released by the Bureau, “it is estimated that the tourism industry lost approximately $1 trillion in economic impact and more than 100 million jobs, worldwide,” and the ongoing crisis continues to devastate one of the world’s largest industries.

Statewide, the most recent numbers on tourism in Louisiana were released by the Lt. Governor’s office in July. They showed that in June, Louisiana’s hotel occupancy numbers were down more than 36 percent from the previous year. Tourism jobs decreased by nearly 30 percent, statewide, from 2019. 

From March-June 2020, alone, the state lost $93 million in state tax revenue, and $29 million in gaming revenue was lost from June 2019- June 2020. 

“Locally, tourism is still reeling from the ruinous effects of shuttered businesses, smaller conventions, and ever-changing state mandates,” the Tourism Bureau’s statement read. 

From March to December 2020, 72 meetings and 59 sports events were cancelled and Shreveport-Bossier lost an estimated $21 million from those cancelations.

“The year 2020 started with such promise,” said Stacy Brown, president of the Tourist Bureau. “We were building momentum in the meetings market and working on bids to host conferences like the Society of American Travel Writers that would have boosted midweek hotel business and shined a spotlight on Shreveport-Bossier with a proliferation of positive articles and social media posts from visiting travel writers about our amazing attractions, food, casinos, outdoor recreation, and most importantly, our friendly people.” 

In 2018 and 2019, 402 and 326 groups booked hotels in the Shreveport-Bossier area, respectively. That number fell to 146 in 2020. In 2018, over 185,000 people booked rooms in the SBC, and more than 227,000 people booked hotel rooms in 2019. In 2020 just a little over 71,000 people booked hotel rooms in the Shreveport-Bossier area. 

Even with these losses, the Tourist Bureau was able to do what most organizations around the world were forced to do- pivot. 

The Convention/Tourism Sales Department conducts sales, attends trade shows, conducts site visits, and builds client relationships. The current primary goal of the department is to return to pre Covid-19 production levels within three years. 

To help with that effort, it launched the Press Play in Shreveport-Bossier campaign, a digital marketing campaign aimed at getting regional visitors to participate in all that the SBC has to offer. From May to July and September to December, the campaign generated 30,600 hotel rooms, which earned around $4.1 million in hotel revenue. They also hosted the Meeting Planners International-Dallas Chapter for the first time. 

The Sports Commission sales team booked 114 sporting events in 2020 for that year and beyond, and their efforts actually increased sporting events and room bookings associated with those when compared to the two previous years. In 2018, roughly 213,000 people traveled to the area for sporting events. In 2019, that number was close to 172,000. In 2020, though, that number rose to nearly 245,000. With hotel bookings, Shreveport-Bossier saw a 36.7% increase from the previous years, directly related to sporting events hosted here. 

“One unique challenge presented in 2020 was our annual CenterPoint Energy Red River Balloon Rally. Instead of cancelling, our team was able to work with our incredible sponsors to bring the fun to locals by having the balloons fly over our community. Because of this great teamwork, we were the only festival in the nation that still had hot air balloons fly,” said Kelly Wells, executive director of the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.  

In another win, the Bureau’s Communications Team “generated sales of nearly 4,000 airline tickets to Shreveport-Bossier. The Boom or Bust Byway, a 136-mile self-driving tour through the countryside of Caddo, Bossier, Webster and Claiborne parishes, was a breakout marketing star, too, attracting people who wanted to be outside and safe,” said Brandy Evas, Vice President of Communications. 

The Communications Team shared that Tourist Bureau website page views were down from the two previous years. In 2018, they logged more than 1.3 million page views. In 2019, they recorded more than 1.1 million views. In 2020, the recorded page views had dropped to roughly 833,000. 

The Shreveport-Bossier Fun Guide site also lost views. In 2018, the page views were just over 871,000. In 2019, they were nearly 764,000. In 2020, they were just over 287,000. 

While these numbers may seem dismal, the Communications Team also recorded that 17,000 website sessions for the Boom or Bust Byways site generated more than $105,000 in PR value.   

“I’m proud that my team didn’t let the depressed economy deflate their sales efforts,” said Brown. “Though 2020 didn’t go as we thought, we were able to pivot, rethink our sales strategies and work with clients for future bookings. No one can really say what the future holds. But as long as we can welcome visitors safely, we will. It pumps money into our local economy, keeps our locals working and benefits our local businesses.”

All photos courtesy of Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau