Tourism Industry and Workers Clash on How to Handle Mardi Gras

Members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Jenn Bentley

Following Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s announcement of new restrictions shutting down bars across the city and limiting packaged alcohol sales in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras weekend, both tourism industry executives and New Orleans workers have taken to the internet – and the streets – with differing messages.

On Saturday, New Orleans & Company President and CEO Stephen Perry sent a letter to his colleagues and members of the tourism board complaining that the increased restrictions put in place to protect New Orleanians from the spread of COVID-19 would result in workers suffering lost wages. He also blamed locals for the recent scenes of “egregious unsafe behavior,” in spite of those scenes taking place in areas that locals typically avoid, such as Bourbon Street.

“Our own residents created a dilemma for government,” Perry wrote. “It wasn’t the small number of responsible tourists we have been hosting or the majority of our citizens and businesses.”

Perry went on to emphasize that in spite of the city’s pivot to “stay safe and stay home” messaging, “New Orleans hotels and restaurants are open and providing wonderful venues for residents and visitors to celebrate responsibly and safely during the beloved periods of Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day.”

“We encourage every New Orleanian to mask, dress in costume, make reservations, and know you will be welcomed downtown and throughout the city in your favorite restaurants where you can celebrate the season in responsible, socially distanced style and relish the food that has made New Orleans famous.”

But that message is a problem for many of the New Orleans hospitality workers that Perry claims he wants to protect. On Sunday, the New Orleans Hospitality Worker’s Alliance released a statement saying, “We hospitality workers are the backbone of this city. The mayor’s comments ‘welcoming tourists’ for Mardi Gras and the Tourism Marketing Corporation ads inviting tourists puts us and our communities at risk. We will not stand silently by as we are left without safe jobs or income.”

The group also issued a list of demands that included:

  • Mayor Cantrell retracting her statement welcoming tourists and instead asking tourists to “act like New Orleanians and stay home”;
  • A full city shutdown, including restaurants;
  • Guaranteed income replacement for workers, using the tourism taxes to pay hospitality workers who cannot access unemployment;
  • Guaranteed right to quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines without retaliation (loss of job or cut hours);
  • Living wages;
  • Paid sick leave;
  • Hazard pay

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Cantrell has needed to walk a fine line between protecting the city’s citizens and preserving the city’s tourism-driven economy – which most citizens rely on for employment. It has been a difficult balancing act, with city messaging often changing from welcoming tourists to encouraging everyone to stay home, depending on the virus trends across the city and state. Although parades have been canceled since 2020, initially the city still sent out a more welcoming message to visitors and tourists. The city advertised the Floats in the Oaks fundraiser for City Park, the many “Krewe of House Float” houses decorated and free to view throughout the city, and of course the city’s many bars and restaurants now open under the city’s modified Phase 2 rules. However, when photos of a crowded Bourbon Street began drawing local and national attention, and with over 700 New Orleanians now dead from COVID-19, the mayor took on a more serious tone.

On Friday, in addition to the announcement that all bars across the city of New Orleans would be shut down for Mardi Gras weekend (Feb. 12-16), there would be no sales of to-go alcohol allowed, and no sales of packaged alcohol in the French Quarter. Furthermore, the entire NOPD force will be on duty throughout the weekend at various checkpoints throughout the French Quarter in order to limit both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“The magnitude of the additional restrictions, coupled with the cancellation late last year of all parades and balls, is unprecedented in the modern era of Carnival,” Cantrell said. “But so too is the public health crisis New Orleans faces amid a slow rollout of vaccines and reports of new, more transmissible coronavirus variants that are spreading in the city … to those that are upset about these restrictions, know that when it comes to the health of our people, I’d rather be accused of doing too much than not enough.”



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