Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser celebrates Louisiana tourism recovery at Houmas House in Ascension Parish

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser announced Louisiana has enjoyed a quicker-than-expected tourism recovery from the two-year pandemic during a visit to Houmas House in Ascension Parish on May 4.

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment and Louisiana's Sweet Spot, the parish's tourism commission, welcomed Nungesser back to the historic Great River Road location in Darrow, where he previously helped kick off the parish's tourism rebranding.

Cointment pointed out people want to live, shop, and work in Ascension Parish, which has been the fast-growing parish in the state over recent decades, referring to it as a sweet spot between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

He also recognized tourism Executive Director Tracy Browning, Houmas House owner Kevin Kelly, the staff, and Nungesser. 

Louisiana's Sweet Spot website includes several "sweet things to see and do" throughout the parish, including destinations on both sides of the Mississippi River in the Prairieville, Gonzales, and Donaldsonville areas.

"I welcome everyone to come and visit and see all of the remarkable tourism opportunities throughout the parish," Cointment said.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, second from left, visited Houmas House in the Darrow area of Ascension Parish, where he shared positive news about Louisiana's tourism rebound. Shown from left are Ascension Parish Tourism Board Member Gaspar Chifici, Nungesser, Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment, Ascension Parish Tourism Executive Director Tracy Browning, and Board Member Jeanne St. Germain.

The event was part of the National Travel and Tourism Week celebration, which brought Nungesser and the state tourism staff to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Hammond, Jefferson Parish, Lafourche Parish, Lafayette, Alexandria, Ruston, and Monroe.

Nungesser announced more than 41 million people visited Louisiana during 2021, which was a surprise to tourism officials in light of the pandemic's challenging two years.

During the Ascension Parish event, Nungesser said the state had enjoyed five record-breaking years with tourism before the pandemic.

"The future is bright," he said, touting the efforts of the parish and state tourism agencies. "We're well on our way back to those record-breaking years."

"We're looking forward to a great year this year," Nungesser added.

He also pointed out a few highlights for the state, which included the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade in California.

"You talk about the people of Louisiana, we treat strangers like family, and you leave here with a friend for life," Nungesser said.

In a news release, he pointed to hotels, restaurants, events, and festivals springing back across the state as the pandemic has waned in recent months. Louisiana has ranked in the top ten of desired destinations, according to many national travel sources.

“Tourism is Louisiana’s fourth largest employer with over 250,000 people who bring out the best in hospitality in our state," he stated.

Nungesser also detailed the increase in online traffic to the website, which received 9.7 million visits in 2021. That represented an increase of 162 percent from the prior year.

“Mardi Gras this year was a huge success statewide, and we have already seen record crowds at spring festivals such as the Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula, the Scott Boudin Festival, French Quarter Festival, Festival International in Lafayette, and the Jazz and Heritage Festivals in New Orleans," he stated.

Despite dealing with the pandemic in 2020, the economic impact of tourism to Ascension Parish reached an estimated $133 million dollars in tourism spending that generated some $15 million in total taxes, Browning said.

Ascension Parish was ranked 11 out of 64 parishes in tourism expenditures that year. 

In the first four months of 2022, the parish has already held 40 events and festivals with another 30 scheduled.

"We are looking forward to meeting all of our new visitors and showing them this great place we call home," Browning said.