Last week, I volunteered with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation during the SEC basketball tournament. The volunteers were stationed in an open area outside the Superdome,called Champions Square. There, amidst games and activities hosted by several different organizations and sponsors, the GNOSF volunteers helped facilitate what were deemed “interactives,” — a marketing word for basketball activities: free throw contests, dunking contest, etc. I co-ran a little obstacle course, in which participants tipped the ball out of some sort of basketball-holding-contraption, dribbled a basketball around some poles, threw the ball off a taught net and then took a lay up. The woman co-running the obstacle course with me was a chatty, bright spot on a cloudy day. I was also eager to be very accommodating to the families, making conversation with moms and dads as their kids were occupied. “Where are you staying? Need any recommendations?”
Most of the people we encountered were Kentucky fans. In fact, all last week blue shirts clogged up downtown. I heard a few people complain about their presence, mostly about traffic they caused, but I surprised myself with how much I wanted to play a good host. (A rival SEC fan base!) I kept thinking, “OHH I hope they have a good time, spend money and come back.”
My volunteering experience got me thinking about what’s it’s like to live in a city that attracts tourists regularly. Tourists in D.C. annoyed me constantly. I encountered them on the metro where they disrupted Washingtonian metro protocol: stand on the right of the escalator; walk on the left. MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE METRO CAR. Peace be with you if you are stuck behind someone attempting to feed their paper metro cards into the machine.
Still, these tourists brought money and attention to the capital city. Why did they annoy me more than tourists to the Crescent City? Is it because tourism is the number 1 source of income to the New Orleans economy and GNOSF’s mission is “to attract and manage sporting events that have a positive economic impact on the Greater New Orleans area.” They make it clear that attracting sporting events to the city creates a windfall of financial beneficiaries. The complaints I’ve heard (thus far) about tourists in New Orleans is that they cause traffic and that they make drunken spectacles. (However, it’s hard to argue that New Orleanians themselves don’t do the latter.) Am I a victim of southern hospitality, or am I just grateful for the cash these people bring in?
What about you? Do you live in a city that receives thousands of tourists? Do you welcome them?