Disaster Tourism in New Orleans: Good Idea or Bad?

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Tours of the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans were a regular part of tourist visits—and meeting off-site tours—until they were banned. But should they be allowed to come back?

I know when meetings (and meeting planners) were invited back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, a bus tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and other hard-hit areas was a regularly offered feature. People I know who went to NOLA once it reopened for business took the tours, and said it was a deeply moving, horrifying experience they will never forget. But is it a good idea?

City leaders thought not, and banned the practice in 2006, though it sounds like a lot of tour operators decided it was worth the risk of a fine to do it anyway. Now there's an ordinance being proposed that might open the area up for tours again for operators willing to pay a fee. But is it a good idea? On one hand, it would generate still-much-needed redevelopment money, and the option for residents to make a few bucks off tourists who otherwise might not venture to the area. On the other hand, who wants tourists gawking at how bad your neighborhood still looks all these years later? Is it better to limit tours to areas like the Musicians Village, the brain-child new community musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis undertook to have built? And why is the ban limited to the Lower Ninth Ward, when other hard-hit areas are still open to tour buses?

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