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"It is easy for me to determine what should be marketed because I'm a native," says Phil Jones, Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism secretary.

While most state tourists still head for New Orleans, his annual campaigns focusing on events such as last year's "FrancoFete" have steadily pushed state tourism rates up.

According to Travel Industry Association of America, Louisiana is tops in growth among states with 20 million visitors. Its tourism growth rate climbed 17.6% over the last five years, compared with the national increase of less than 7.5%.

"We've grown the whole pie," he says. "Our visitorship to New Orleans has decreased from 75% to 65%. Other areas are seeing growth."

He attributes the shift to the ongoing ad campaign themed, "Comes as you are. Leave different." Peter A. Mayer & Partners, Baton Rouge, handles the $8 million marketing budget.

"We showcase diversity in food, music and cultural mixes," says Mr. Jones, 38. Its bread-and-butter market is Florida, from where Louisiana draws 40% of its visitors. Last year, the state expanded its marketing efforts to include Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. It called on Canadian travelers to sample the state's French history at "FrancoFete."

"We are authentic," says Mr. Jones. "People leave here having danced, tasted our food. No one can find our Cajun influence anywhere else."

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