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In wake of Jazz Fest cancelation, tourism officials expect more events to be scrapped

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BATON ROUGE - Just one day after October's New Orleans Jazz Fest was postponed due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, tourism officials in the capital city expect more events to follow suit.

"I fully expect that sometime this week, there'll be some additional alterations, probably postponements or possible cancellations," Paul Arrigo, president of Visit Baton Rouge, said.

Arrigo says this latest surge has already led some small conferences and conventions to postpone or cancel their scheduled events. Those choosing to go forward with plans, he adds, are likely to see a drop in attendance.

Some events, though, aren't ready to scrap plans for this year just yet, instead choosing to navigate through what was uncharted territory just last year.

"It does feel somewhat familiar in that we've gone through this sort of scenario and exercise back in March of 2020," said Kim Neustrom, executive director of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival and Foundation.

Blues Fest is scheduled for September 18 in downtown Baton Rouge. Previous surges forced organizers to downsize and move the festival to the fall.

For Neustrom, it's a bit of a waiting game, as she and other festival organizers are not sure what changes or entrance guidelines will be necessary next month. In a statement to WBRZ Monday, Neustrom said plans to hold the event remain intact, but specifics are fluid. 

"We're looking at the guidance from, as I said, our governor, our mayor, health officials, as to what those parameters should be, and could be, and then what would work for us as our intention moves forward to have a blues celebration."

As cases continue to climb, Arrigo doesn't expect this surge will do to tourism what the original wave did in 2020. From a tax revenue standpoint, he says Baton Rouge tourism will do 'considerably better than we anticipated' for 2021.

"We don't think it's going to be nearly as catastrophic as 2020 was, and we're prepared for a blip," Arrigo said. "We're ahead of where we expected [to be] right now. We know that things will come down a little. We feel comfortable that we're going to finish this year, at least, where we expected to end well above last year."

Looking at monthly data for April and May of this year, Arrigo says he is seeing a roughly 10% drop in tax revenue compared to the same period in 2019.

As of now, he doesn't think local tourism and the businesses that thrive off of travelers will lose much of the progress made since last year, but only time will tell.

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