The tourism business around the world which is one of the most susceptible and vulnerable sectors, must always manage and survive from the global crises. In recent decades, the tourism industry in many countries all over the world has experienced major crises from natural disasters such as hurricanes, storm, and tsunami to terrorist attacks, political instability, and economic recession. Generally, disasters are large non-controllable problems that evaluate the capability of nations and communities to effectively protect the population and its ability to recover after the disasters. No tourist destination is immune to such crisis. Hence, the global tourism industry requires strategies and set of directions which help tourism businesses prepare a way to manage a crisis event from its onset and rapidly implement a recovery strategy. The purpose of this essay is to examine the post-disaster destination marketing viewpoint, its effects on the city of New Orleans, and the attempt to reposition as a premier destination for domestic and international of New Orleans after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive natural disaster in American history in August 2005. Besides, this essay will critically examine the effectiveness of recovery marketing strategies undertaken by the city’s tourism marketing organizations and the lessons learned for post disaster market repositioning are also discussed.
The first section will define the tourist destination, destination crisis, tourism disaster, and a narrative of vital tourism statistics for the city of New Orleans before the hurricane. The second section will mention the effects of the hurricane on the New Orleans tourism. Finally, the third phase will critically examine the effectiveness of recovery marketing strategies undertaken by the city’s tourism marketing organizations.
According to Beirman (2003), a destination is defined as a country, state, region, city or town which is marketed or markets itself as a place for tourist to visit. Many countries’ main income is collected from tourism activities; they have invested heavily in tourism and required a high level of economic dependence on inbound tourism. The economic disruption to the country, state or region is considered as a result in the viability of a destination and it could be a result in loss of income, unemployment and poverty. However, these implications do not determine the choice of destination in tourists and their prime concern is to travel to destinations that satisfy their own desires with minimum threats to their safety and well-being. Therefore, the marketing of destination crisis is no longer being treated as a problem of a specific destination; it is now an issue of global tourism industry and become a critical political, economic and social priority for many nations which tourism is a significant industry.
Faulkner and Russell (2000, cited in Beirman 2003) defined a disaster as ‘a tourism destination is confronted with sudden, unpredictable, catastrophic changes over which it has little control’. In order to modify the definition of Faulkner and Russell, Beirman defines a destination crisis as ‘a situation requiring radical management action in response to events beyond the internal control of the organisation, necessitating urgent adaptation of marketing and operational practices to restore the confidence of employees, associated enterprises and consumers in the viability of the destination’.
For many years, New Orleans was an ideal vacation destination and it is the world famous tourist destination due to its rich cultural heritage, copiousness of unique food and many opportunities to enjoy local art, music and festivals. Throughout the past 30 years, New Orleans focuses on its efforts to attract tourists by constantly redefine its image through all taglines such as ‘The Crescent City’, ‘The Gateway to the Mississippi Valley’, ‘America’s Most Interesting City’, ‘The City that Care Forgot’, and the ‘The Big Easy’ (Clement 2008). Moreover, it often cited as “European” charm and the unique French Quarter historic district, thus, there is a large number of tourists visit the city for many years to take part in the distinct experience that New Orleans has offered as a vacation venue. In January 2005, just seven months before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was ranked sixth among the top United States vacation destinations which were conducted by the University of New Orleans (UNO) Hospitality Research Centre (Chacko and Marcell 2008). Statistically, in 2004, tourism of New Orleans was one of the main economic engines of the city and the employment in hospitality and leisure accounted around 80,827 jobs generating $30 million in state income taxes. Besides, the number of visitors came to city reach to peak 10.1 million and spent $4.9 billion in 2004. Before the Hurricane Katrina occurred, the tourism industry accounted for 3.8% of Gross State Product, provided 175,000 direct jobs, and generated under 8% of total tax revenues of the states (Louisiana Research Team 2004).
New Orleans is a unique circumstance of Hurricane Katrina. Faulkner (2001) addressed the difference between the definition of crises and disaster that crisis was defined as ‘induced by the actions or inactions of the organization’ while a disaster was considered to be an ‘induced natural phenomena or external human action’. The terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in the U.S and Chernobyl nuclear accident would be classified as crises while the Turkey earthquake and the plane crash in Lockerbie were disasters. According to Faulkner’s definition, Hurricane Katrina would have been classified as a disaster with over 1,300 died; 228,000 housing units were flooded in the New Orleans metropolitan area and over 70% of 188,000 housing units were damaged by the storm and subsequent flood (Olshansky et al. 2008). However, the poorly man-made concrete levee walls which were designed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, a federal agency aimed to protect the city breached, did the flood waters deluge 80% of the city and created a crisis of gigantic proportions. In addition, federal, state, and local government authorities lacked of capacity in preparing and re-acting in a timely manner to the city citizen’s needs. Therefore, the Hurricane Katrina can be described as an induced natural phenomenon or a disaster followed by the inactions of organizations or a crisis.
Two major organisations responsible for the overall tourism and hospitality marketing of the New Orleans are the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOMCVB) and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC). The primary mission of NOMCVB is bring meetings, conventions, and tour groups to the city, supply many hotels, restaurants, attractions and provide tourism goods and services for customers. This organisation uses personal selling as the primary sales strategy and solicits business from several tourism intermediaries such as meeting planners and tour operators. The second organisation’s goal is to spur the city visitation and uses two million dollar in its budget for advertising and positioning the leisure market of New Orleans. Besides, tourism marketers capitalise New Orleans’s strength as an exotic, unique, and ‘foreign’ locale (Stanonis 2006). In addition, just two months before Katrina, marketers produced a television commercial which is part of the summer campaign 2005, featuring New Orleans’s well-known and talented local musicians with titled ‘Do They Play Jazz in Heaven?’ According to Kotler et al. (2005), the appeal of the message was more emotional than rational and included the lines ‘do they play jazz in heaven, in New Orleans we know they do’ (Chacko and Marcell 2008). These messages reinforced the well-established position of the city as an exciting and popular destination with great food and music. However, the arrival of Katrina made a major shift in positioning strategy in producing hundreds of hours of negative publicity in the mass media.
Unfortunately, New Orleans’s city was truly in a state of disaster after Hurricane Katrina. The storm and flooding are not only washed away physical infrastructure of the city, but also eroded the perception of the city’s tourism destination. According to Northington (cited in Chacko and Marcell 2008), the city loss $15.3 million and this was potentially devastating to New Orleans’s tourism industry, especially the loss of economic impact from many festivals and events that it hosts. However, the biggest obstacle that New Orleans’ tourism industry has to face is the tarnished perception as a tourist destination of the city. Faulkner (2001) claimed that the power of media and tendency in lingering negative images, the destination usually takes longer to recover than the period requires services restore to normal.
The tourism industry of New Orleans has met a lot of challenges after Hurricane Katrina. Prior the disaster, the research focused on measuring the industry and profiling the visitors to New Orleans, but now the focus has sharply shifted to measuring the perceptions of visitors about New Orleans. Mayor C. Ray Nagin said in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune that ‘We have an image challenge throughout the country. You ask what New Orleans is like today, and any people only have images of a city in crisis. And that’s a concern, that they don’t see the rebuilding that is going on’ (Thevenot 2005). Moreover, due to the national and international media continued to display images of a ravaged city every detail, the tourism industry was getting worse and worse. According to journalist Eric Morgan (2008), ‘because of the media, people believe we have infrastructure issues, hotels aren’t open, restaurants aren’t operational, and there are no supporting service industry workers’. In March 2006, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation conducted a perceptions study of a panel of 5,000 online travellers, 22% indicated they believed that some neighbourhoods of New Orleans still had standing flood water from Hurricane Katrina, 14% of them believed New Orleans is not a safe place to visit because of contaminated air or drinking water, and 12% indicated that the historic districts in New Orleans are still destroyed or devastated. However, the optimism seems to have increased over time with 77% of meeting planners over the three quarter between October 2005 and January 2006 indicated that they were “very optimistic” about the sufficient recovery of New Orleans in regaining its status as a major destination city. Although meeting planners fully expect city’s recovery, they believe it will be a slow process (Chacko and Marcell 2008).
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In reality, New Orleans is different from the potential leisure travellers’ perception. The city’s tap water was safe to drink according to city health officials and there is no standing water on the streets. Transportation and airline are suitable to handle travellers and 80% of hotel room inventory has rebounded as pre-Katrina levels. Nevertheless, many flooded neighbourhoods’ recovery is still slow and the city is continued framing news coverage in these environments and undermining positive messages by the media. Therefore, the challenge is to find the appropriate marketing strategies to mitigate the impacts of disaster for New Orleans.
As the result of the Katrina disaster, the NOMCVB, NOTMC, and other tourism organizations have elaborated on their past branding campaigns and created new campaigns to change perceptions of potential travellers and using brand elements such as new slogans and logos to alter the images of New Orleans. The slogans and themes try to counteract negative images which were played out in the national media and reconstruct and increase brand identity of New Orleans. According to Braun-LaTour, LaTour, and Loftus (2006), ‘reminding consumers of their past connection with a brand may be a particularly effective way to repair the brand’s image after a crisis situation’. Slogans were launched through branding campaigns of organisations such as ‘fall in love with Louisiana all over again’, ‘New Orleans: Happenin’ everyday’, ‘do you know what it means to Miss New Orleans? We know you do’ and etc. to rebrand New Orleans as a multicultural destination and created a sentimental image of New Orleans, divert attention of travellers from the human suffering’s reality, physical destruction and stimulate consumer desires to travel to the city by constructing a narrative of past grandeur. According to Greenberg (2000), the urban branding campaigns function not only as ‘texts-on-cities’ but also power-laden ‘texts-as-cities’ that position of organisations and tourism professionals as important voices in the articulation of the collective identity of the city and thus ultimately the urban brand.
In January 2007, with support from Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, the NOMCVB launched ‘an aggressive, strategic, marketing, public relations and direct sales campaign designed to celebrate its authentic culture, lure domestic and international visitors back, preserve the city’s leading industry (hospitality) and overcome misperceptions about New Orleans among consumers’ (NOMCVB Press Release 2007). The ‘Forever New Orleans’ campaign is an international branding campaign which was designed to re-brand the city internationally by showcasing the confidence of hospitality industry in New Orleans and developing a deeper understanding of the city culture as unique and authentic. It uses headlines in outdoor advertisements and print campaigns such as ‘New Orleans is Open. To Just About Anything’, ‘Soul is Waterproof’, ‘Old World, New Promise’ and other phrases to celebrate a spirit of swagger, appeal the meetings industry, travel trade professionals and the traveling public. According to Morgan (2008), the largest out-of-home advertising company in the United States – CBS Outdoor donated 44 billboards worth a valued of $3 million to New Orleans. Besides, the 30 minutes television show ‘A Whole New Orleans’ attempts to attract visitors with displays of the city’s most authentic, historic destination and unique culture.
The NOMCVB and other tourism professionals try to increase the development of New Orleans’s tourism post Katrina and mention the perspective of ‘internalising the brand’ as a major ingredient in branding New Orleans as an entertainment destination (Gotham 2007). New urban rebranding campaigns are being implemented in order to present ‘authentic’ image of New Orleans as clearly demarcated, disconnected, and segregated from flooded neighbourhoods by tourism professionals. Besides, a new industry of ‘disaster tourism’, for example ‘Hurricane Katrina: America’s Worst Catastrophe!’ tour through devastated neighbourhoods of Gray Line New Orleans Bus Tours focused on ordinary places that have historical and cultural significance thereby mobilizing travellers to visit them. Moreover, in order to attract corporate brands to invest in New Orleans, political and economic elites have pushed for the development of lucrative tax subsidies and help finance the rebuilding effort. Therefore, the above points demonstrate that tourism organisations are trying to marketing the imaginary of New Orleans base on entertainment version to attract investment and rebuild the city. The branding strategy is a new method to promote urban place to align local political interests with transnational corporate entertainment to organise urban rebuilding. Rebranding New Orleans post-Katrina is not just attracting consumers and visitors to spend money in the city, but also ‘about socializing residents to view the city as a brand and imagining an urban future that conforms to a semiotic script’ (Gotham 2007).
Due to tourism professionals mention the perspective of ‘internalising the brand’ as a major ingredient in branding New Orleans as an entertainment destination, there are some conflicts intrinsic in the understanding of urban brands. Firstly, there is the lack of clear and understandable object capable of being branded. Cities and places are multifaceted and complicated systems of organization and they contain a range of different groups, diverse identities and conflicted social relations. Branding destinations is more complex and challenging than other goods and services because of the existence and interdependence of multiple stakeholders, multiple components and multiple suppliers involved in the tourism service delivery (Buhalis 2000) and especially when it involves national characteristics and loyalties and popular permission of whole population. The second is the lack of control between urban branding organisations and branding campaigns when they deal with uncertain and unstable environment of many stakeholders who have diverse interests, contending perceptions and urban visions (Park and Petrick 2005). The branding work of New Orleans’s tourism professionals are informed by market research and tourist trends, however, they do not know whether the campaigns are successful or not. Besides, the branding process is full of instability and uncertainty. Moreover, the urban branding’s unpredictability derives from gained knowledge about visitors through surveys is partial and incomplete because consumer’s desires and preferences always change. Thirdly, there is exist the risk that visitors and residents may reject the images of brand and view them as irrelevant, inauthentic or affronts to local culture. Additionally, there is the lack of consensus about the positive or negative effects of tourism in the city and a clear differentiation between residents who favour tourism and those who against it. In the construction of urban reality and produce meanings, residents are actively involved in and sometimes they are challenge the dominant imaginary of urban and brand. Due to the views of residents about New Orleans are not singular or fixed, thus, ‘internalising the brand’ is no means ensured or guaranteed. There is unclear and questionable about the partial internalisation whether it is realised as a vehicle for enhancing brand value or not when some residents may incorporate some affective links with the New Orleans brand into their lives.
In summary, hurricane Katrina has weakened the New Orleans’s tourism industry, displaced thousands of people, problematized meanings of community identity, and can cause wholesale changes to all aspects of tourism destination management. Numerous prescriptive strategies have provided examples, templates and checklists for tourism agencies to formulate marketing strategies which are the very important in the recovery process. Restoring the urban brand strategy of New Orleans is a differentiation and diversification process whereby local tourism organizations harness and construct destination images in order to control consumer impressions and understandings of a particular locale. Although urban brand has network of power operate and clear profiteering motives, it is also important to recognise branding as a contradictory process with unpredictable outcome, unforeseen consequences and facing a long road to recover destination image. However, tourism marketers of the city are using repositioning strategy or (re)brand strategy to make New Orleans regain its status as an outstanding tourism destination.