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Vacation Spots Try to Get Their Groove Back

New Orleans, Atlantic City rethink their marketing as 'staycation' trend takes hold

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These days, it can be hard to get people to visit the Big Easy, and Atlantic City no longer has a stranglehold on gambling.

Both cities—historically top U.S. vacation destinations—are looking to advertising to bolster their images and reverse steep tourism declines. New Orleans’ total annual visitors slid from 10.4 million before Hurricane Katrina to just 8.7 million last year, according to Mark Romig, CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. Atlantic City’s 2011 total—29.7 million—represents a 15 percent falloff from 2006, said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance.

Both cities are rethinking their marketing strategy and target audience as consumers adjust their travel habits in a flaccid economy. The Alliance last week launched a new “Do AC” campaign from Euro RSCG that targets leisure travelers instead of gamblers, and New Orleans is reviewing its ad account for the first time in a dozen years.

These moves come amid rising fuel costs and shrinking discretionary income—macro trends that have spurred tourists to bypass long trips for destinations closer to home. This “staycation” phenomenon has colored several new tourism efforts.

Atlantic City has always focused on regional travelers, particularly those within a five-hour car drive. Beyond New Jersey, that includes Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. Because of its proximity, AC’s appeal may grow in the eyes of staycationers. But the city still has to convince regional residents that its beaches, spas and nightlife are worth the trip.

“We really lost what we consider to be a significant number of the visits from just that sort of quick day-trip gaming environment,” Cartmell said, adding that while gamblers are still showing up, they’re doing so less frequently. “So we need to replace that gaming customer with a leisure traveler.”

Beyond such strategic challenges, tourism marketers are feeling pressure from their cash-strapped cities, states and local businesses to generate new revenue and, in turn, help spark economic revivals.

Economic rebirth is a big ask, though, considering the modest marketing budgets of the Alliance ($20 million) and the NOTM ($9.5 million). Still, for every dollar that New Orleans spends on tourism marketing, the state of Louisiana gets back $17 via hotel and sales taxes, said Romig, citing a research report.

Tourism “produces jobs, it produces taxes and it also helps tell a great story in our particular case,” Romig added. “It’s a story of resurrection and rejuvenation. So, to us, it’s a mission that we’re very happy to engage [in].”