Leigh Guidry, firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEXANDRIA — Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser doesn't consider himself the one with all the answers for improving Louisiana tourism. He's the guy around great people with great ideas, and it's his job to make them happen.
"I truly believe decisions about tourism have to be done as a team," he said. "... My strength is to take the best ideas and move them forward."
Among those ideas is using "Louisiana's greatest asset" — its people — to market the state, from large metro areas to small towns with little money for advertising.
"People in Ruston know best what to show about Ruston," he said.
He practices what he preaches as he tours the Bayou State, speaking to groups like the Louisiana Municipal Association in Alexandria July 29.
When he's in the northern part of the state he reminds his audience about an attraction further south and vice versa.
"Part of my speech to every group — I want to teach people to do this — is sell something about Louisiana (not in that area)," Nungesser said.
He wants to remind Louisianans of what's available here at home, especially during summer vacation months.
"People are too quick to jump in the car and go to the Gulf Coast, so we need to highlight all our great parks and opportunities (for in-state tourism)," he said.
"And we need to package it in a way that makes it accessible. ... Florida and the Gulf Coast have done a great job marketing, but it's got to be easier to drive two hours to Alexandria (than go to Florida)."
Nungesser and his team are working to start an ambassador program to "make all residents ambassadors for Louisiana."
It's still in the works, but the program likely will have residents get involved through social media, tools already available to most people.
"We have limited funds to promote the state, so we want to give tools to everyone to promote it," he said. "... The days of spending a bunch of money in advertising is over. We've got the people, the passion, the love. We just have to put them together."
His office can use 10 percent of the sales taxes it receives for in-state promotion, a figure that fluctuates every year, according to the Office of Tourism.
Nungesser said the office is in the process of going out for bid for its main marketing firm with a special focus on in-state advertising. The contract is expected to be awarded next spring.
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All about teamwork
Nungesser's focus on teamwork can be seen on both a small and large scale.
It might look like meetings with his "tourism board" or like the Lt. Governor's Tourism Summit for 300 to 500 people with potentially great ideas. The annual event for tourism stakeholders in partnership with Louisiana Travel Promotion Association will be in late August in Shreveport.
Then he'll travel across the state for regional meetings with legislators, other tourism stakeholders and businesses.
"It's important for me to spend a lot of time in communities fostering all these ideas and seeing which work," Nungesser said. "... We will work regionally to market and find that 'wow factor' (for an area). We've got history. We've got great things to see and do. It's tough to put all together."
Nungesser wants to work with businesses like hotels and restaurants to come to state parks while being careful not to take away from existing businesses nearby.
"We don't want to hurt local business," he said. "We have to get buy-in to everything we do."
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But it's not just about in-state travel.
Tourism, obviously, is about getting out-of-state and even international visitors into Louisiana, many of whom already are coming, Nungesser said.
The state's international inbound volume grew about 36 percent for 2015 over 2014, his office reported.
"It's an opportunity for us to work hard and bring in every tourist," he said. "... Obviously we want to keep that going up."
He wants to get visitors into some of the state's "great arenas," possibly by attracting the horse industry to host events.
"We are going to focus, this coming year, on the great outdoors of Louisiana," he said.
That includes a statewide focus on fishing, connecting great fishing spots such as Toledo Bend Reservoir — named America’s top fishing destination two years in a row by Bassmaster magazine — to those on the coast.
He said there hasn't been a statewide approach like this before when it comes to promoting such spots. One of the tag lines is "You can fish anywhere, but you can catch fish in Louisiana."
Speaking of tag lines, Nungesser said his office is sticking with "Pick your passion" as a state slogan for now. It was unveiled in 2014 tourism ads by his predecessor, Jay Dardenne.
"At some point if we think it needs to be changed we will," he said. "'Pick your passion' has served us well."