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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, July 16 2019 @ 06:39 PM EDT
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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, July 16 2019 @ 06:39 PM EDT
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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

New Orleans courts vacationers; just don't let guilt drive you there


NEW ORLEANS
NEW ORLEANS
Families around the country are beginning the annual ritual of summer vacation. Where to go this year?

Grand Canyon?

Yosemite?

Yellowstone?

How about New Orleans?

In a push akin to the one in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks, tourism officials in the Gulf Coast are asking travelers to come visit them as part of the region's recovery effort."Come fall in love with Louisiana all over again," is the theme of the campaign - and the celebrities doing the inviting range from golfer David Toms and R&B maestro Allen Toussaint to star chef Emeril Lagasse.

"What we're saying to folks is, 'Come visit. Come spend money. You can help be a part of the return of a city that is unlike any other city in the country,'" says Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A nation watched in horror in August as Hurricane Katrina turned the Gulf Coast into a Third World nightmare of stranded victims, bodies and the kind of devastation that even Hollywood couldn't conjure.

Rescue workers and recovery volunteers poured in from all over. Now, as the rebuilding continues, is it America's civic duty, a kind of ethical obligation, to turn our vacation budget into some Southern comfort?

Romig and others hesitate to go that far. They would rather the motivation come from the heart. Still, the need is great.

"We definitely do need people here because the economy depends on tourism," says Margaret Keenan, program coordinator for the Center for Ethics and Public Affairs at Tulane University in New Orleans.

FEELING GUILTY

Keenan and Romig shake off suggestions of the ick factor in partying and relaxing where survivors are living in FEMA trailers and wide swaths of devastation are still very visible reminders of this megadisaster.

"Oh no," Romig says. "To have folks come visit is a healing for New Orleans. This is what we're all about, this Southern hospitality. If people don't want to come feel it, taste it, see it, that would be a shame."

If you're worried about feeling guilty, Keenan says there's enough of that to go around the entire Gulf Coast. "To tell you the truth, we all feel guilty. I feel guilty living in my FEMA trailer because I'm having a better time of it (than others)," she adds. "That being said, I don't think coming down here and pouring money into the economy and inadvertently giving people jobs, I don't think people should feel guilty about that."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, that state launched a $40 million "I Love New York" campaign as a sign of support and patriotism. While tourism itself slumped in the months after 9/11, the 2001 year-end figures showed a surge in the number of U.S. visitors coming to see family and friends.

In Louisiana, where tourism is the second largest industry, in the first six months after the back-to-back onslaughts of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the state saw a loss of more than $1.2 billion in visitor spending, according to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Romig doesn't like comparing the Gulf Coast's woes to 9/11. One was an enemy attack; the other was a natural disaster. Still, there are similarities, particularly when it comes to issues of support.

NO GAWKING

Not everyone is gung-ho about sending tourists to the Gulf Coast.

Phil Harris, a San Diego Baptist minister planning to take his sixth team of recovery workers to the Biloxi area of Mississippi, worries that there's just too much need there to simply fly down and sip Sazerac cocktails.

"I'm working with families that there is just no way they're going to get back into their homes without the help of others," says Harris, who runs the charity Friends & Family Community Connection.

After thinking about it, he offers another suggestion: "Go not so much as a tourist to play, but take the money that you would use to play with and make that investment in the rebuilding effort of a family - and go do it personally.

"Let's kind of redefine what play is," Harris adds. "There is a play of when things are going well across the board as a nation, versus such a time as this when there are so many people displaced. Let's make our playing a little more practical, and let's help improve the condition of a family that we know that my 'playing' would actually allow them to play as well."

Another admonition: Don't be a gawker.

"I think the thing that would bother me is, are they going down to be a lookie loo?" asks Ralph Buchhorn, a San Diego chaplain who has gone several times to the Gulf Coast with his canine partner, Georgie. "It's like the people who drive by an accident and stop, causing more problems."

Besides getting in the way, gawkers violate something that even disaster victims hold precious: their privacy.

And Buchhorn worries about a growing weariness and irritation that he is seeing among residents. "If you go there, just be tender with one another."

Others contend that seeing the damage in a respectful manner may help motivate visitors to lobby their congressional representatives about continuing federal aid to the Gulf Coast.

Lynne Kelly, a San Diego resident, took time out of her recent trip to the New Orleans' jazz festival to visit the devastated Ninth Ward. "It has a much greater impact to see it," she says.

Kelly and her husband stayed in the French Quarter, which escaped much of the damage. "Everybody was really happy to see people visiting and they were very vocal about that," she says.

Was she fulfilling an ethical obligation by going there? Kelly thinks that's too strong. "But I do think it's a really great gesture and a show of support."

Meanwhile, a summer vacation in New Orleans, even with air conditioning for the heat and drinkable water for the humidity, comes with another concern: Hurricane season has begun. To which Keenan, of Tulane University, offers this additional advice for tourists: "Make sure they have a rental car. And don't wait for a mandatory evacuation."
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