Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, center, listens to St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot at a meeting on rural tourism Tuesday at the St. Landry Visitor Center on Interstate 49. At left is Doug Bourgeois, director of the Louisiana Byways program. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)

Acadiana tourism leaders air their wish lists

OPELOUSAS — About 50 tourism leaders were queried Tuesday about their ideas on how to improve rural tourism in a meeting attended by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center.
“We want to know those ideas and those thoughts whether it is additional off road trips, attractions or things we can put together,” Nungesser said.
“We are excited to learn more and see how we can better coordinate moving people around the state,” he said.
Kelly Pitre, of Eunice and St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission member, said she would like to see a way to reach the younger generation.
“We need to reach young people to grab their interest otherwise we are a dying culture,” she said.
Mavis Fruge, of Arnaudville, said, “I would love to see more signage in French. I would like to see a little less litter and more trees, more flowers .. those things that are pleasing to the eye.”
Yvonne Normand, a St. Landry Parish Tourism Commission member, echoed the need for French language promotion and appealing to youth.
Charlene Beckett, Abbeville Main Street manager, said more connectivity is needed and a Main Street trail needs to flow tourists from north to south.
Alison Miller, Vermilion Parish tourism director, said more kiosks with tourism information are needed because tourism center opening hours are limited.
Danielle Fontenette, St. Martinville Main Street manager, and Patrice Melnick, an Opelousas tourism staffer, said more multi-culture marketing needs to be done.
Another common theme was the need for the use of social media in communicating with tourists.
Nungesser said he moved three jobs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge where one person will seek to fit conventions to rural areas, a second person is to work on organizing tours from major cities to rural Louisiana and a third person will promote tourism opportunities on social media.
A Louisiana Bass Trail was established recently in response to a suggestion, Nungesser said.
“Any idea or thought you have please share it with us so we can make sure we are covering every base to improve tourism in your area,” he said.
“The rural areas of our state are an asset to all of Louisiana,” Nungesser aaid in a news release. “We are highlighting all of the fun things to do by listening to the people who live in these rural areas. They know how to best promote and market their assets in order to draw people to their areas.”
St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot said, “This is really all about people coming to be with us. We are the attraction.”
Celeste Gomez, St. Landry Parish Tourism Commission executive director, said the meeting, which was one of four held in the state, was important to hear ideas “...or maybe just to know who to turn to.”
The “roundtable” discussions were also held in Tallulah and Oil City on Monday; Houma on Wednesday; and Hammond on today.
Doug Bourgeois, director of the Louisiana Byways program, led the meetings and Cheryl Hargrove, president of Heritage, Tourism and Culture Partners, conducted them.
A state Office of Tourism news release, stated, “A major draw to our more rural areas of the state is the Louisiana Trails and Byways. This program was set up through the National Scenic Byways Program as a way to draw people to Rural America. The Louisiana program currently has 19 trails and byways that highlight different areas of the state from Historic Route 80 to the Southern Swamps to the Zydeco Cajun Prairie. Information about the byways program can be found at www.LouisianaByways.com.”
In the same news release, Nungesser said, “The Byways are an integral part of bringing people into the heart of Louisiana. You can find great food and drink at a local craft brewery or family restaurant, have a great time fishing or hunting in rural Louisiana or you can dance the night away to Zydeco music at a local joint in rural Acadiana.”

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