Monday, April 16, 2012

Tourist Economy

So yeah, tourist economies. I tend to think people know this stuff, but I forget that it’s not something you think about unless you live in one. Tourist economies are incredibly seasonal. There’s a lot of money to be made (mostly by people who own tourist businesses) during the tourism season, which is usually defined as the spring and fall, when weather is temperate and it’s pleasant to walk outside. It’s no coincidence (well, kind of a coincidence for Mardi Gras) that all of the major festivals are scheduled for those times of year. What this means, though is that the portions of the year that are not in season, there’s no tourism and consequently no money. There are no jobs here during summer unless you’re a long-term employee. The town becomes completely dead as few tourists visit and the people in town with money leave to avoid the heat. Crime goes way up as result of broke-ass punks with nothing to do wandering around and forming gangs and shiz, basically shit all goes to hell. Also there’s hurricanes. 

That’s how it works. That’s also why no one moves here really. There’s no real sustainable economy. After the port became more or less obsolete (and no one wanted to spend the money to modernize that shit) Moon Landrieu and his mayoral contemporaries decided that the town needed to be converted into a tourist destination full-on. He built the moon walk, he designed the laws that keep cars off of royal by day and bourbon by night, he allowed for hotel corporations to build high-rises downtown. All of that shit started in the 80s. And it’s now all we’ve got. There are no tech jobs here. There’s some local banks, but they’re losing money to larger national banks due to their conservative and myopic lending practices. There are oil jobs but no one from here gets hired to work in the oil business, at least not in management. And there’s tourism. Hospitality is the official marketing friendly term for this industry, a term that encompasses travel, hostelry, restaurants and related accoutrements. The hospitality industry is the driving force of New Orleans. Nearly everyone who lives and works here performs in some capacity related to an industry devoted to getting people to visit here and hemorrhage money. That’s why we call it a tourist economy. We can’t survive unless people think there’s a good reason to visit, so we come up with lots of good reasons to visit. We’re not a swinging party town solely for our own benefit. We’re a swinging party town because it inspires people to visit and put cash in our g-strings.

So yeah, that’s where we’re at. And no one visits in summer because it’s too hot and all of our biggest festivals are planned for the spring+fall. So everyone is forced to work around that, to save money for summer from the spring or else find themselves shit outta luck cash-wise. It wouldn’t be so bad if the people working in the hospitality industry were paid anything approaching a living wage, but wealthy tourist business owners are well aware that most of their employees (bartenders and wait staff especially) will just end up working for tips as it is and so they’re paid server’s minimum, something like $2.66 an hour. During the summer where businesses can go for hours without a single tip and half the employees brought on for the spring Mardi Gras-French Quarter Fest-Jazz Fest are laid off just to cut costs (hospitality business owners, as you might be gathering, are generally huge dicks, and worse rarely local, usually collecting money from New Orleans tourism and funneling it to Biloxi or Milpitas or something), there’s a severe uptick in poverty around the city.

It’s a fucked situation, but one that’s been in the making for a few hundred years and perpetuated by the same cadre of wealthy white people that have been in control of this town essentially forever. They’re independently wealthy, they can just put their money into stocks and live off appreciated value (that’s “capital gains”). This power base runs local politics, local preservation societies, and local tourism boards. The system is invested in and self-perpetuating because people (like you) don’t put up a whole lot of fuss over it and blacks are culturally and socially disenfranchised despite being the majority in this town. So yeah, until some kind of major political upheaval happens, New Orleans is a tourist town and we have to deal with seasons.

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