Pictured is the new marketing manager for the Evangeline Tourism Commission and Pine Prairie native Elizabeth West. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth West)
Former Ville Platte Gazette editor and Pine Prairie native Elizabeth West has recently been named Tourism Marketing Manager for Evangeline Parish. She is a graduate of Louisiana College with a bachelor’s degree in history. She sat down for a Q&A about her new role with Evangeline Tourism, where she faces challenges in a pandemic world.
Question: What are you looking forward to with your new job?
Answer: The thing I am looking forward to the most with my job is being able to work with the Tourist Commission and people in the community to bring new tourist attractions to Evangeline Parish, and to make those attractions known to the world. That, however, will not happen overnight. It is going to take some time, but thankfully the Tourist Commission and I have already started making the connections we need to at least begin having conversations with the right individuals who can help us make our dream of growing our tourism industry a reality.
Question: Evangeline Parish is a small, rural area, which sometimes means it’s not appealing to tourists who travel to bigger locales where there is more to do. How would you go about attracting tourists to the parish?
Answer: The way I plan to go about attracting tourist to our area is to focus on what we have that the “big city” does not offer. From some of the best fishing and food you are going to find to our beautiful parks and unique French heritage, Evangeline provides visitors an opportunity to have a Louisiana experience you will not get in many other places. Those are the things I want to really focus on, marketing through social media, print media, online media, and radio.
Question: The annual Cotton, Swine, Boggy Bayou, and Smoked Meat festivals were canceled this year due to COVID-19. How do you feel this impacts tourism for the parish?
Answer: The canceling of our local festivals has had a major impact on our tourism industry, and not in a good way. But, safety first. Our festivals bring people to our parish, which is always a great thing for our local economy, but I have realized dwelling on something we cannot change is not worth it. I have started looking at this situation as an opportunity for myself and the Tourist Commission to start getting creative and find new ways and forgotten attractions to bring people to Evangeline Parish.
Question: Aside from festival cancellations, what kinds of challenges do you anticipate with tourism in a COVID-world?
Answer: The reality is, tourism has one source of revenue, which is the 2% Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax paid when someone stays at our hotels, motels, or parks. The number of people staying at those places is down at this moment because of COVID-19, which has had a tremendous affect on the amount of money we collect. That is what we are up against right now. We are however looking into creating a flyer where businesses can advertise, which would be distributed to individuals who visit Chicot State Park. This could become a new revenue source for tourism, which would assist us greatly during these trying times. I hope to be able to get our Representative Rhonda Butler and Senator Heather Cloud on board with this idea so that they can help us get approval from the Lt. Governor to put this plan in motion.
Question: How will you overcome those challenges?
Answer: We plan to overcome the challenges that COVID has presented by looking for those tourist attractions that we still offer during this pandemic and market them all over the state. With Tournoi for example, we want to do everything in our power to make it known to people everywhere that if you are tired of having nothing to do then we have something for you. Hopefully, showcasing such a unique event that you can only experience in Ville Platte will bring new visitors that will then stay at our hotels and parks and spend their money at our local businesses. In addition, we also want to focus on advertising our RV parks because that seems to be a big thing right now and we have three great parks – Chicot State Park, Crooked Creek, and Lakeview - that people can visit right here in Evangeline Parish.
Question: Since Chicot State Park has partially re-opened, have there been more people visiting the park?
Answer: Chicot State Park partially reopening has been a godsend for us. They are a huge part of what attracts tourists to Evangeline Parish. I would say the partial reopening of Chicot State Park has definitely started bringing people back to the park.
Question: Do you think closing parts of Chicot State Park have impacted tourism?
Closing Chicot State Park has had a huge impact on tourism. Just looking at it from the revenue side, Chicot is one of tourism’s biggest funding sources through the hotel/motel tax. Receiving zero dollars from Chicot for the couple of months it was closed has made things difficult financially in terms of just funding day-to-day operations for tourism. We are definitely glad it has reopened, and I know there are so many fishermen in the area who are excited it is open again, too. Plus, with Chicot you also get the Arboretum, and I think we all sometimes just need an afternoon on the trails, getting fresh air to keep sane during this pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, has Crooked Creek Park shown a decline in visitors, or has it improved?
Crooked Creek has actually shown an increase in visitors since the pandemic. It never closed, so when people were looking for a place to just get away for a weekend, Crooked Creek was the place they chose. We are happy to see that it has done well and look forward to finding ways to continue that trend.
Is there anything new planned for the parish parks?
Crooked Creek is a big focus for our tourism board right now. We really hope we can start some projects out there that will kind of revamp the place. That is something we want to talk with Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser about because we believe he will be able to help us find the necessary funding we need to do the work we want to turn the park into one of the finest in Louisiana. We are also getting ready to start building a website so that reservations can be made online.
Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser is giving Louisiana a big push in tourism, especially for in-state tourism which encourages Louisiana residents to tour their own state. He has requested small municipalities show their best attractions to be added to a video promoting local tourism. What Evangeline Parish attractions should be added to the promotion video?
The attractions we would love to spotlight with Lt. Governor Nungesser’s videos are places like Hotel Cazan, Cazan Lake, Clark’s Landing, Johnson’s Landing, Bayou Cocodrie, and Miller’s Lake. I believe using the promotional videos to highlight exactly why they call Evangeline “sportsman’s paradise” will bring people from across the state to our parish.
Is there anything from Nungesser’s plan you want to implement in the parish?
I would like to see us capitalize on the promotional video idea and begin creating our own videos each month so that we are continually making Evangeline Parish Tourism a focal point of our parish.
Is there anything else you’d like to address?
I am so thankful to the Evangeline Parish Tourist Commission for this opportunity. I am coming into this at an unprecedented time. Revenue is down, traveling is down, events are canceled. Keeping things afloat is going to be a challenge. However, one thing for sure is I am a person who does not shy away from a challenge, so…challenge accepted.