Officals tout state tourism numbers

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SPRINGHILL — Louisiana tourism is one of the top revenue generators for the state, topping oil and gas revenue.

Kyle Edminston, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of Tourism, stopped in Springhill Tuesday for the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau Commission meeting, touting the state’s high numbers of outside visitors, including an ever-increasing number of international visitors.

“We achieved these numbers because of groups just like you across the state,” he said. “The state doesn’t own any hotels, we don’t have any destination to market for the state as a whole. So, we couldn’t do what we do or have the success that we have if the individual tourism commissions and marketing divisions weren’t doing a great job.”

Webster Parish Tourism commission president Kerry Easley presents outgoing commission member Lamar Smith with an award in appreciation for his service to Webster Parish tourism.    Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Webster Parish Tourism commission president Kerry Easley presents outgoing commission member Lamar Smith with an award in appreciation for his service to Webster Parish tourism. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Across the state, he says 2014 is the third year in a row that every record has been broken, touting 28.7 million visitors to Louisiana, spending $11.2 billion, with 21.2 million overnight stays.

The most important number, he says, is that there are more than 225,000 Louisianans employed by tourism.

“That’s hard jobs,” he said. “It’s the fourth largest jobs in the state, and in the last year and a half, it is the only job sector that has continued to grow faster than the national job rate. It generated $836 million in state tax revenue. As a state taxpayer myself, that’s $836 million that we didn’t have to come up with to put in the coffers for general fund for education, healthcare, protective service, all the things that the government is supposed to do for the citizens.”

He gave several other numbers and talked about the things that drive people to come to Louisiana, saying it is Louisiana’s unique flavor that attracts many of its tourists, especially international tourists. While Louisiana is not one of the top four or five tourist destinations in the United States, it is unique because of its culture; it’s different and authentic, he said.

In financial business, chairman Kerry Easley says that while the auditor was not able to attend to present the auditor’s report, the commission received a clean audit report with no findings.

“This is like the sixth or seventh year in a row that there have been no findings,” he said.

Income is up by roughly 44 percent, Lynn Dorsey, executive director, said. It’s up 30 percent overall, she says, and it’s largely due to the influx of hotel/motel sales tax increases from the opening of Muddy Bottoms ATV and Recreation Park.

To date, the tourism commission has disbursed $777,706.93 in grants since 2003, says Johynne Kennon.
A new secretary was appointed following the resignation of Mary McKinney who served as the commission’s secretary. Frances Irving was selected to take the position, and the two new board members, Etta Jo McCullough and Joan Farrar were welcomed to the board. Farrar is filling the unexpired term of Lamar Smith, which ends in December 2016. McCullough is filling the unexpired term of McKinney, which ends in December 2017.

The next meeting of the tourism commission will be in November.

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