Things are looking up at the St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission, but CEO Donna O’Daniels, her staff, and commission board members are not leaving anything to chance.
Treasurer Patti Ellish told the board at its June 29 meeting that parish hotel occupancy tax collections for April and May exceeded prepandemic levels for the first time since the coronavirus dealt a blow to tourism worldwide. Marketing Vice President Christina Cooper confirmed that recent local tourism statistics show that “the recovery is in progress.”
But rather than relying on the rebound to take its normal course, the board adopted a strategic plan it developed with O’Daniels and her staff to grow the industry even more over the next four years.
The plan is the result of a monthslong effort led by Berkeley Young, of Young Strategies, a North Carolina firm that has helped tourism organizations across the country grow their markets.
The plan is based on input from community, civic, and travel industry leaders who participated in a planning survey deployed earlier this year, and the results of a planning workshop led by Young and attended by board and staff members in March.
The plan defines the tourist commission’s mission as: “To market and promote St. Tammany Parish as a highly desirable destination for visitors and, thereby, increase the economic impact of tourism on the area.” It establishes three strategic initiatives to grow the parish tourism economy:
• Market St. Tammany Parish as a destination with the highest skilled and most dynamic sales and marketing team, while meeting the highest standards of financial and ethical accountability; continually update research and marketing strategies; ensure board support of staff excellence; participate with state and industry partners to leverage the Louisiana Northshore brand and reach a wider audience; provide leadership to the parish industry through cooperative sales and marketing and workforce development; provide dynamic visitor information services; promote travel to the parish; and track results using leading-edge industry methods and metrics.
• Support the improvement and expansion of existing and new visitor experiences to attract new business by encouraging the development of meeting and event spaces; a multisports facility; a luxury RV park; unique shopping opportunities, attractions, improved transportation options; and the recruitment of outdoor outfitters and guides.
• Advocate for travel industry issues and communications within the parish by creating policy/action committees to improve industry and community relations; advocate for needed legislation and funding, and create opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion; working with industry associations to address issues at the local, state and federal level; providing annual industry updates to elected bodies; maintaining a crisis communications plan and adequate reserve funds to cover crisis-related expenditures; developing a tourism master plan for inclusion in the parishwide master plan; and sponsoring an annual Tourism Week to promote the benefits of the travel economy to parish residents.
Annual reviews by staff and board leadership will measure how effectively the commission is achieving its strategic goals, and adjust as necessary.
O’Daniels stressed that a primary goal is to incentivize and support the development of new facilities and attractions by industry partners in order to grow the parish tourism and general economy.
“We’re truly in a supporting role,” O’Daniels said. “What we can do is provide knowledge, research and resources to help drive our vision of what this destination can become.”