Around Town

NOLA Tourism 101: What Locals Need to Know

New Orleans possesses a unique charm as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. But what does this really mean for the locals? Every year, Nola draws in millions of visitors to experience its unique, multicultural blend of art, music, cuisine, and history. While every day here is a celebration of life and all these things that make our city so wonderful, the influx of tourists creates a complex web of effects on the city’s financial landscape, infrastructures, and the lives of its residents. Of course we want to see our vibrant city grow and succeed, and since so many people have mixed feelings about our happy-go-lucky out-of-towners, let’s take a closer look at the impact they’re really leaving. 

Short-Term Rentals vs. All Y’all

New Orleans’ tourism industry is undeniably a powerhouse, injecting billions of dollars into the city’s economy each year. It spreads far beyond the iconic French Quarter and Bourbon Street, like from Gentilly to Marigny, from Uptown to Downtown, from Lakeview to Mid-City, among many more vibrant neighborhoods. These blocks not only support a plethora of businesses, including restaurants, shops, and hotels, but also create job opportunities for thousands of people. 

However, the impact of tourism is a nuanced balancing act between opportunities and challenges. On one hand, employment in the hospitality sector provides a vital source of income for many locals. Not to mention tourism here also helps enrich the city’s diversity and foster a sense of belonging among residents. On the other hand, the rapid growth of short-term rentals (Airbnb, Vrbo, Vacasa, etc.) impacts property prices, which in turn will often displace many long-term residents, contributing to gentrification and altering the social fabric of our neighborhoods. Not only do these short-term rentals take away from local businesses, but many are operated by people who either never lived on the property to begin with or only spend a small percentage of their time there. Discussions on residential regulations have become deeply personal, pitting homeowners against renters and individuals of various income levels, all worried about the impact of unregulated tourist accommodations on New Orleans neighborhoods.

As residents navigate these complexities, there is a growing call for policies that prioritize the needs and well-being of those locals in order to foster inclusive growth and equitable development across all communities. The current word on the street is that city officials have finally begun cracking down on these short-term rental properties. A law passed in March 2023 restricted these rental properties to one per square block and blocked corporations from owning and operating them. Moreover, it’s also required that rental operators have a city-issued permit– something that five in six rental owners lack. As city officials continue their inspections, only time will tell if this has truly been a step in the right direction. 

Maintaining Our “Charm”

Now, let’s dive into infrastructure. Another one of the many beautiful things Nola is known for is its mesmerizing architecture, historic landmarks, and oh yeah– crater-sized potholes you can find on pretty much every other block. The constant flow of visitors leads to wear and tear on the roads, sidewalks, and public spaces, necessitating regular maintenance and upgrades. In 2022, the city welcomed 17.53 million visitors who spent around $9.1 billion. This is ultimately how our city receives funding for infrastructure improvements. Although these stats aren’t quite up-to-par with the pre-pandemic numbers, one thing is for sure: we are definitely headed in the right direction. 

Balancing the need for preservation with the demands of modernization is an ongoing challenge, one that requires thoughtful urban planning and community engagement. As the city continues to evolve, strategic investments in infrastructure are essential to ensuring the longevity of its appeals to tourists and residents alike. This may be the only way to continue fostering a sense of pride and ownership among those who call New Orleans home.

Investing in Our Future

By embracing a holistic approach to tourism management, New Orleans can and will continue to thrive as a cultural hub while safeguarding the interests of its residents and generations to come. While this town reaps undeniable benefits, it is our duty as residents to not shy away from the challenges that require thoughtful planning and solutions, especially when it comes to pushing local policymakers to prioritize sustainable tourism practices, like investing in infrastructure upgrades, supporting local businesses, and implementing equitable housing policies. 

This article was originally published in June 2024.

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