The St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission was awarded the “Outstanding Convention Visitors Bureau of the Year” for 2011-2012 for budgets $250,000 to $750,000 Thursday at the Lt. Governor’s Tourism Summit in Lake Charles.
Part of the nomination information: The commission, which includes Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau, had a tumultuous 12 month period — going from the highest high to the lowest low, stated a news release from the commission.
The bureau earned “Outstanding CVB of the Year,” based on the scope of work and the uncharted waters that the bureau was forced to navigate after a major crisis that no bureau should have to experience.
The bureau partnered with various St. Mary Parish organizations including the Franklin Main Street annual Art Walk, the American Red Cross bicycle tour from Houston to New Orleans, the 76th annual Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, Franklin Main Street Merchants Association annual Harvest Moon Fest, Morgan City Main Street annual Remember November promotion, the Patterson Cypress Sawmill Festival and the Bayou Teche Bear Festival and Wooden Boat Show. The bureau placed advertising, engaged social media, assisted with funding and assisted whenever needed to insure the success of each event.
The bureau supported the Lt. Governor’s Bicentennial Celebration and Acadiana’s Grand Reveil Acadien and hosted the Bass Federation Central Division Tournament and the Fishers of Men Central States Fishing Tournament, welcoming more than 300 fishermen from eight states to the waterways of the Cajun Coast.
Aside from working with the above mentioned events, four promotions including Tour du Teche, Voices of the Past, Eagle Expo, and Tarzan, Lord of the Louisiana Jungle Fest were significant.
The bureau worked cooperatively with St. Martin Parish, St. Landry Parish, Iberia Parish and Tour du Teche staff on the second annual Tour du Teche the first weekend in October. The Tour du Teche is a 127-mile paddle race down the Bayou Teche from Port Barre to Berwick. The bureau worked with two cities in St. Mary Parish — Franklin and Berwick — to make the stages of the tour in St. Mary Parish successful including attending meetings, promoting the event and assisting with funds for the city of Franklin and Town of Berwick.
The bureau encouraged three entities in Franklin to work together on a programming package called “Voices of the Past.” Voices of the Past included the St. Mary Landmark’s Society and its annual Tour of Homes, the Franklin Cemetery Tour that is organized by a private citizen, and the Techeland Arts Council’s “No Hitchin” storytelling theatrical production. The bureau wanted a weekend package that had the ability to generate overnight stays. The bureau was part of the steering committee. In addition, the bureau packaged the events, designed and printed the brochure, placed advertising, collected registration forms and fees, created mailing lists, placed online advertising, distributed press releases, sent constant contact emails, engaged social media and worked the day of the event for a successful event. Attendance at all three events including the Tour of Homes, Cemetery Tour and “No Hitchin” performances were significant.
Eagle Expo is produced and promoted by the Cajun Coast. Eagle Expo is a bird-watching event held every February. The bureau applied for and received two grants — one from the Louisiana Office of Tourism and one from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortia. In addition, the bureau solicited funds from the private sector. The Cajun Coast received great publicity for the event that resulted in every boat tour filled to capacity. The LUMCON grant provided funding for a student educational program called Save Our American Raptors whose presentation featured seven raptors. The bureau visited four junior high schools throughout the parish and added an extra day at the Patterson Civic Center for private schools and students who are home-schooled. SOAR was also featured on the Thursday evening of Eagle Expo for the general public. More than 1,000 students participated in the SOAR program. More than 50 hotel rooms were booked and the economic impact to the community exceeded $109,000 at a time when business is traditionally slow.
In April 2012, the bureau organized the Tarzan, Lord of the Louisiana Jungle Festival. The first Tarzan movie filmed on location was filmed in Morgan City in 1917 starring Elmo Lincoln. Morgan City was selected for three reasons: The swamp looked like the jungles of Africa, there was a large population of African Americans who could play Africans and Morgan City had a great railway system. Al Bohl, a resident of Shreveport, created a documentary on the filming of the first Tarzan movie. After meeting with Bohl and communicating with representatives of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’s organization, the bureau organized an event to coincide with the premiere of the documentary and the re-editing of the 1917 film that was accompanied with live musicians. In addition, the bureau worked with the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson to hold a temporary exhibit on the making of the first Tarzan film and Gov. Bobby Jindal proclaimed Friday, April 13, 2012, as Tarzan, Lord of the Louisiana Jungle Day. While the event attracted a moderate number of people to attend the Tarzan festival from out of state, the bureau garnered more than $300,000 in free publicity as the story about the festival was featured on The Associated Press wire and was printed in about 150 publications and related websites throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Furthermore, the bureau was in the process of building a new $3.7 million Welcome Center and Interpretive Facility in Morgan City. The bureau worked on the project for more than nine years, bonding funds, applying for grants and capital outlay and practicing frugality. When not working on promotion and publicity for the destination, the bureau researched and solicited quotes, bids and request for proposals for a variety of projects relative to the welcome center, in addition to having weekly site inspections on the building with the architect and the contractor.
On June 14, 2012, only 45 days from completion, the building suffered a foundation failure. The bureau went from having one of the greatest years of accomplishments to one of the year’s greatest disasters. The building’s foundation failure was featured throughout the state on most major networks, newspapers and radio stations. The building failure was also featured on the MSN search engine as “weird news.”