If there’s one thing New Orleans does well, it’s air conditioning.
And food. And hospitality.
This is what I noticed about the city: the brilliant combination of so many things. In the 90-degree-plus temps, we walked slowly and gratefully past businesses that left their doors open to share their cool air with passersby. I had some outstanding Mexican food at El Gato Negro and some great vegan fare at Seed. Also, I must say, I’ve never experienced politeness like I did there—everywhere I went.
And the combination of people from all over the world at the 15th anniversary of Tourism Cares’ first volunteer program made for a celebration.
Our group was led from the host hotel to the opening reception at The Chicory by New Orleans & Company’s fantastic jazz band. This was Tourism Cares’ third time in New Orleans, the others were 2004 and in 2008, just after Hurricane Katrina. The organization’s new CEO, Paula Vlamings, emphasized the importance of empowering the people in the city’s communities through our work, as 43 percent of New Orleans’ revenue comes from its tourism.
My mom joined me on this journey. (You may recall our first entertaining work trip together to Clarksville, Tennessee, last year). She used to live a few miles outside of New Orleans and was excited to get back.
It was my first time there, as was the case with my coworker, Jane McIntyre. This was one of my bucket-list cities.
For our work project, we headed to the Woodlands Conservancy in Belle Chasse, where Hurricane Katrina wiped out 84 years of tree growth. The forested wetlands act as a sponge, absorbing so much water each year that it offsets drainage costs by millions. It’s also a haven for migratory birds; about 2.5 million stop daily in Louisiana to feed and rest, so the habitat is vital.
So vital that they thought giving me a machete was a good idea. I opted for the loppers instead, and off we went over a mile into the wetlands to clear trails of invasive vegetation and trash. The area serves as a great recreation destination, with walking and horseback riding trails.
Our team also planted 1,200 seedlings to add to the newly built nursery. They will be transplanted into restoration areas next year.
This was my second Tourism Cares experience, and I love getting to work side-by-side with people from all over.
NYC & Company’s Reagan Stulbaum attended Tourism Cares New Orleans in 2008. “It was cleaning up and getting everything up and running last time.” she said. “Now it’s ‘how do we help communities and create sustainable tourism’ and introducing new places to tour operators. There’s a whole different essence and meaning to it.”
At the closing reception at the Jazz Market, I spoke with Bruce Beckham, who was Tourism Cares’ CEO when the organization was founded in 2003.
He discussed the organization’s evolution and the original New Orleans projects.
“New Orleans is like no other place in this world because of its tradition and culture and music, and its architecture and food. It’s one very, very special city, and people love to come here. And people love to come back,” he said. “It’s not a ‘been there, done that’ city. It’s one of those ‘been there, go back’ cities. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world.”
After our work day, my mom, Jane and I stayed the weekend to explore. We walked nine miles around the French Quarter and the Garden District, ate beignets, shopped and listened to beautiful music on the street. I even met up with my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in 15 years.
New Orleans was just the best combination of things.
Photos by Kendall Fletcher