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Louisiana Lieutenant Governor on the state's tourism recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser joins Yahoo Finance to discuss tourism, the state's economic recovery, and vaccination rates.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Welcome back to "Yahoo Finance." Louisiana is making a big push to attract tourists trying to rebound from the effects of COVID. Here to discuss how the state plans to do just that is Billy Nungesser, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. I hope I said the name correctly, sir. Thank you so much for being with us today.

BILLY NUNGESSER: Yes, ma'am. You did.

- I appreciate your time today. So, you know, we've had this new COVID variant that's shown up. Louisiana has been one of the southern states that's lagged a little bit as far as vaccinating children, adolescents, and adults. How do you expect to sort of bring people back and want them to spend time in the state when there is this fear of the new variant? Do you think you need to step up vaccinations in the state to help along what you're trying to do?

BILLY NUNGESSER: Well, we absolutely do. You know, I think the Louisianans have made a good push, especially in the hospitality industry, to wearing their masks and cleaning facilities. And we've seen our numbers really go down. And that's a good thing.

But as we reopen our doors to the world, we want to do it safely. But we need to try new things, like we did with the Macy's float this past week, to lure visitors here as we're competing against every state for those tourism dollars.

- Yeah. I saw your Celebration Gator float in the 95th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Looking good, Lieutenant Governor. But look, we have a graphic up here on the screen right now. Just less than half of your state's population fully vaccinated. So how do you remain an attractive tourist destination for international travelers as well against that kind of backdrop?

BILLY NUNGESSER: Well, it makes it a little more difficult, just like coming out of the two years of back-to-back major hurricanes. It's something we're going to just continue to have to work on, as well as selling the world that Louisiana is safe. Our numbers are down as far as COVID, people infected, but as you mentioned, the vaccination rate is not what it needs to be. And that is making a challenge for tourists coming to Louisiana.

- And sir, I want to ask you really quickly. You recently received a tourism award, the state. What contributed to that?

BILLY NUNGESSER: Well, I think we started from the day one of the shutdown, known as the fourth biggest industry in Louisiana, brought in $1.9 billion in taxes in 2019. That's a little over $1,100 per Louisiana family. So it's something that we have to really bounce back quickly for our economy.

What we did is we rolled out a sunshine plan, getting people to staycation. Then as the drive market opened up, we offered free night's stay if you came and stayed at a state park. And then we were in those airports as soon as the flights opened back up to advertise in those flying markets. And then we reengaged our international markets weeks before the international market opened back up to make sure they're hungry for some Louisiana food as soon as they could travel again.

- Yeah, a little gumbo sounds good right about now, Lieutenant Governor. But talk to us a little bit about what tourism means to your state in terms of the economic recovery, but also in terms of jobs. How many jobs are we talking about here?

BILLY NUNGESSER: Absolutely. Over 250,000 jobs in the hospitality-- directly in the industry. And then there's this trickle-down effect-- the hotels, the food industry, the musicians, which were greatly affected, and all those businesses that support those, advertising, marketing.

So it's a huge industry here. Like I said, it's the fourth largest industry. And we welcomed $19.8 billion in spending in 2019. That's a lot to make up for a state with a little over 4 million residents. So we hit way above our weight in the amount of tourists we attract to Louisiana. But so we've got a long way to go to bounce back to those record-breaking numbers.

- You know, you mentioned musicians there in your answer. And I know that a big musician coming from your area is Jon Batiste. He is, of course, the Grammy award-winning Louisiana native, lots of awards. I think he's nominated for something like 11 Grammy Awards. What does having somebody like that as an ambassador for your state mean to the economic recovery there?

BILLY NUNGESSER: You can't put a value on it. You know, him, Lauren Daigle, the "American Idol" winner Laine Hardy, are all great ambassadors. And there's many more. And every time they go around the country and the world performing, talking about Louisiana and all the things-- the great food, the music, and the people. We treat strangers like they're family. And they get treated like nowhere else in the world. So we feel like that's one of our greatest assets is to have those great ambassadors out there speaking about Louisiana and encouraging people to come here.

- All right. And sir, really quickly, last question for you. What's the outlook for recovery? Are people in the state optimistic going into next year?

BILLY NUNGESSER: Yes. We're hopeful that these numbers stay low and the vaccination rates go up, and that we can open our doors to Mardi Gras. That is going to be a great indicator if we can do it. We had a great parade in October for Halloween. The mayor put people on the streets. We had it with great success, with no uptick in COVID, people getting the virus. So we hope we can pull off a great celebration for Mardi Gras to open our doors back up to the world, and do it safely.

- All right. We will have to leave it there. Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser, thank you so much for your time today. Much appreciated.

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