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A strong tourism base has developed because of Acadiana's festival network, our indigenous culture and the hospitality of our residents. By Greg Gothreaux

Hospitality is defined as friendly, welcoming and generous treatment offered to guests or strangers. That treatment is one of the hallmarks of Acadiana. It's no wonder that the hospitality industry is such a vital part of Acadiana's economy. The industry encompasses more than just hotels and restaurants. On a broader level it includes everything from transportation to retail to arts and entertainment and recreation facilities. As a whole these pieces make up one of Louisiana's largest economic drivers - the travel and tourism industry.

Louisiana's tourism industry has unquestionably been impacted by the Gulf oil spill. The threats from the oil spill, both real and perceived, to the shore, waters and seafood will continue to impact tourism. Locally, numbers took a hit in the second and third quarters, but rebounded some in the fourth quarter. Though leisure travel was down in 2010 due to cancellations related to the spill, the descent of media, relief workers, and government officials has offset some of the lost spending from leisure travel in the near term.

The region's hospitality industry was also impacted by the recession. Hotel occupancy rates in Lafayette Parish had been well above the national average since 2005. Local rates dipped in 2009 and 2010; and 2010 began with a 28 percent deficit in hotel/motel tax collections. Much like overall retail sales, there was a surge in the second half of the year, and hotel/motel receipts ended the year down only 2.8 percent. Five of the last six months saw higher individual monthly receipts than in 2009, echoing the trend seen with overall retail sales.

Annually, the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism commissions an economic impact analysis of tourism on Louisiana's parishes. Let's take a look at where the tourism industry stood in Acadiana in 2008, prior to the recession and oil spill, and what we might expect as 2011 progresses.

The economic impact of domestic travel - U.S. residents traveling to places more than 50 miles from their homes or to places where they have an overnight stay in paid accommodations - has grown steadily in Acadiana since 2000, affirming the stability of Lafayette's overall economy.

Acadiana has seen consistent growth of travel expenditures since 2000, with the exception of 2005. Total travel expenditures include spending by travelers on goods and services during their trips, such as lodging, transportation, meals, entertainment and retail shopping. Expenditures increased by 27 percent between 2000 and 2004. Between 2005 and 2008, expenditures increased a whopping 45 percent - reflective of an influx of hotel developments and increased business travel spurred by high energy prices.

Since 2000, travel-generated employment - jobs generated or supported by traveler spending - has remained steady, with 2008 having the highest employment at 5,200. Travel-generated payroll is the wage and salary income paid to employees directly serving travelers. One dollar of travel spending generates different amounts of payroll income within the various travel industry sectors depending on the labor content and the wage structure of each sector. Hotel and food service managers, for example, have a higher wage and higher impact on total payroll than entry-level sales positions. In 2008, every $91,724 spent by domestic travelers in Louisiana directly supported one job. In 2008, domestic travel generated almost $100 million in payroll, an increase of 37 percent since the start of the decade.

In contrast to travel-generated employment, total industry employment represents those employed in all accommodation and food service subcategories - such as hotels, bed and breakfast, restaurants and bars. The Lafayette MSA is very service-oriented with growing affluence. Not only do business and leisure travelers drive the hospitality industry in Acadiana, but residents with discretionary income give a boost to the industry as well by utilizing the same services and facilities as travelers. Since 2003, employment has grown 17 percent to just more than 15,000. This growth reflects not only increased workforce needs in existing establishments but also new workforce created by new establishments.

In Acadiana, we're known for our resiliency and joie de vivre. We're a culture that celebrates everything from andouille to zydeco and we have a festival to commemorate it. A strong tourism base has developed locally because of this festival network, our indigenous culture, and the hospitality of Acadiana's residents. Though the year has just begun, 2011 numbers look promising according to the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. Acadiana's hospitality industry is ready to serve visitors for Mardi Gras, Festival International, LAGCOE and the numerous other events in Acadiana throughout the year. As the sign on I-10 reads, "Bienvenue à Lafayette."

Gregg Gothreaux is president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.