Many believe parts of city still under water: Poll



cheryl gerber/associated press


Psychic and Tarot card reader Otis Biggs, who has been telling fortunes for 32 years in New Orleans, reads a spread of Tarot cards as a positive sign for the city’s future. New Orleans Tourism officials, who currently have a variety of PR issues on their hands, may be less optimistic.

Amid misperceptions about New Orleans 27 months after hurricane Katrina, the cold hard fact of a crime wave is creating headaches for tourism officials.

Just over half of respondents to a University Of New Orleans poll released Dec. 10 rated the city a one, two or three in crime on a scale of 10, with one being “the worst city in the U.S.” The poll of 775 people was taken Nov. 29-Dec. 4 and gauged the impressions of Americans outside Louisiana. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

So far in 2007, New Orleans has had at least 200 murders, nearly 40 more than all of 2006.

And in an alarming note for tourism, roughly one-third of respondents to the UNO poll said they were “extremely unlikely” to visit the city for “business or pleasure” over the next two years.

“We can’t dismiss it and say it’s not true. We know New Orleans has a crime problem,” Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, said.

“All we can say is, statistics continue to point to the fact that much of the crime is taking place in historically crime-ridden parts of the city.

The UNO poll found that one-third of respondents believed the French Quarter was among areas hardest hit by Katrina. In fact, the area emerged virtually unscathed. And 26.5 per cent of respondents also wrongly believed parts of the city remained under water.

The French Quarter and other downtown attractions are better destinations than before the storm, thanks to an effort to keep streets clean, said Mark Wilson, president of the French Quarter Business Association.

Tourism leaders have hosted visits for national tour operators and advertised. An estimated six million people are expected to visit by the time the year ends. That would be up from 3.8 million in 2006 but far short of the roughly 10 million who visited in 2004, a record year.

The next few weeks will thrust New Orleans into the national tourism spotlight with a series of college bowl games. Following closely will be Mardi Gras in February and then the National Basketball Association All-Star game.