This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). From their humble beginnings, with a small contingent of people who created the Creole Nature Trail and wanted to draw tourists to the area, the CVB has grown to become a key component in the life of our community.
Impact on our Economy – The CVB added 411 million dollars to our local economy through travel expenditures in 2016, up 7 million from the previous year. They are currently ranked 6th in state for tourism. "It’s no surprise, when you look at all the economic development we’ve had,” says Shelley Johnson, Executive Director of the CVB. "The area has new hotels and casino expansions, more people moving to the area and a diversity of restaurants. It’s a wonderful time to be in Southwest Louisiana!”
With a visible presence along I-10 on Lakeshore Dr., The CVB Visitor Center welcomes over 44,000 visitors each year. If guests are looking for lodging, staff members or volunteers direct them to one of the 6,700 hotel rooms in the area. Another six or seven hotels are currently being built. "Our mission is to enhance the economic fabric of the area by generating overnight stays. It’s up to us and our sales and marketing departments to advertise for both the leisure visitor and groups such as state associations and the state of Texas for conventions, conferences, retreats, meetings, and of course, sporting events.
Johnson says sporting events "are our bread and butter.” The CVB partnered with the Calcasieu Police Jury for last month’s Marsh Madness (LHSAA state basketball championships). 48 teams played in the event this year, compared to 28 in 2016.
This month, the CVB hosts the LHSAA Baseball Fast Pitch 95. The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) brings 10-12 softball and baseball events to the area each year.
In addition to sporting events, the CVB promoted Calcasieu Parish by attending 43 travel shows, meetings, and conventions. They conducted 26 site inspections for tour operators, meeting planners, and travel writers, so they can see for themselves the possibilities SWLA has to offer and take that information back to their clients.
Johnson is excited about the recent development in our region. "The face of downtown and the area as a whole is changing with new restaurants, food trucks, and live music opportunities such as Rikenjaks, Sloppy’s Downtown and their Zydeco Brunch, Blue Dog Café, Crying Eagle Brewery . . . we’ve got so much going on! We’ve had some live music series such as Live at the Lakefront and Downtown at Sundown for a long time. Now we’re Groovin’ at the Grove at Walnut Grove, also. There are fun new shops in the area, such as the Round About Record Store. Farmer’s Markets serve as an attraction to tourists. We have the Cash and Carry, the Charleston, and a market over in Sulphur. There are so many opportunities that people can enjoy, both visitors and locals alike.
International Tourists -- It’s an exhilarating time regarding international visitors. 209,511 travelers came to Louisiana last year – a 14% increase over 2014. International leisure visitors in Louisiana spent$97,736,138in total expenditures in 2015. New Orleans will soon have a direct flight from Germany on Condor Airlines and a direct flight from London on British Airways. There are already a number of direct flights to Europe from Houston, as well. Even prior to these developments, the United Kingdom was in the top three and Germany in the top five, in terms of number of international visitors to SWLA. (Canada is number one.) These new flights will facilitate even more European tourism.
Johnson says the era of motor coach tours is fading. "Most Boomers, Xers, and Millennials like to drive.” To assist these travelers, the CVB has put a vast amount of travel information on their website. Several pages on the website have been translated into foreign languages – French, German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese. "We’re ready for these international travelers. Our app for the Creole Nature Trail and Charpentier Historic District are also translated into these languages.”
Social Media – The CVB has a vibrant active presence on social media. They’ve increased their Facebook fan base from 66,414 to 76,653. They’re also visible on Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and Pinterest, and maintain a popular blog on their website. They sponsor website and social media contests – for example, their Instagram Photo of the Month contest. They get about 70,000 unique visits to their website per month, unless it is Mardi Gras season, during which site traffic rose to 100,000 visits. "We do as much as we can to promote this area in creative ways,” says Johnson.
National Tourism Week and their "Get Out and About” Campaign – The gang at the CVB want local folks to "get out and about” and see what Southwest Louisiana has to offer. "Be a visitor in your own hometown. Invite your friends and family from out of town to come visit,” says Johnson. A great way to get started is to explore the Bureau’s website. www.visitlakecharles.org/Discover is packed with everything you need to know to discover the culture, food, music, entertainment, and outdoors of this fascinating corner of the state. The website is easy to navigate, with separate tabs for lodging, restaurants, events and festivals, outdoor activities, and maps/guides. Find an itinerary that interests you! For more information on the Get Out and About campaign, see www.visitlakecharles.org/outandabout.
During National Tourism Week, May 6-14, every day is a party at CVB headquarters at 1205 N. Lakeshore Dr., Lake Charles. Children’s Day takes place May 13, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Kids will experience engaging displays, coloring books, representatives from kid-friendly attractions and organizations, Gumbeaux Gator, and refreshments. Volunteer Day recognizes and honors area volunteers. Johnson says volunteers are vital to most of their community events. For example, over 100 people volunteered at Marsh Madness. "We appreciate those in the community who volunteer their time.”