Last month, I visited New Orleans. I’ve been to the city many times but, as someone who lives in London, I still count myself as a tourist when I’m there. And while I was there this time, I found myself thinking a lot about tourism in the city.
I’m a writer, so I tend to express my thoughts through words. But, like all tourists, I took pictures – just holiday snaps – during my trip, and I thought it would be interesting to use some of these as a basis for my comments.
Image 1) Oysters: The Tourism Ecosystem
Oysters are a good symbol of the many different culinary, historical, and cultural products that visitors to the city enjoy. Oysters and any other pleasure the city offers tourists are connected however to a larger ecosystem, both geographical and economic. Selling oysters is part of the city’s hospitality sector and Louisiana’s seafood industry. Both are important parts of New Orleans’ economy, and both are dependent on various complex and fragile flows of money, people and delta water connected to some of most severe problems faced by the city, now and through its history.
Don’t let that put you off oysters, however; in a great essay on eating seafood in New Orleans in a great collection, Evan Caspar-Futterman writes that precisely because many New Orleans pleasures connect at a sometimes ocean deep, sometimes surface level way to the trials and frailties of human existence, they should also remind us of “the importance of pleasures to the enjoyment of our fleeting lives”.
Image 2) Airbnb: Homes Away From Home?
This image symbolises the damage that tourism can do to any city in general, and also represents a current issue specific to tourism in New Orleans. Short-term rental portal Airbnb has met with considerable opposition in the city, particularly around Jazz Fest this year, from locals who accuse it of disrupting their neighbourhoods and and even changing them for good because, they claim, long-term residents are being forced out thanks to Airbnb-driven rent rises in their area. I saw this poster in the Marigny, one of the parts of the city most affected.
Airbnb, like many tourist-focused businesses over the years, purports to offer travellers the chance to experience a place the way its locals see it – its current tagline is “experience a place like you live there”. It therefore seems somewhat ironic that this business, according to some at least, is doing so much damage to the lives of these very locals.
Image 3) Coffee And Beignets: A Pick-Up For Everyone
After the threats the first two images prompted me to think about, this one reminded me of the resilience of New Orleans and the positive aspects of its tourism industry. Taken one morning when I was rushing around and wondering how to fit in everything I wanted to do, it shows a late breakfast pit-stop of coffee and beignets.
It’s a very touristy combination to eat and drink but also, I would like to think, very authentically New Orleans at the same time. And, most importantly, it was so good and so reviving that it changed the course of my morning in the city. It reminded me of how tourism in New Orleans can work at its best, when businesses in the city profit by bewitching visitors with its beautiful, nourishing, and sometime slightly sinful traditions, but do not compromise or damage its unique identity, without which there would be no visitors.