LACASSINE — Tourism is economic development for rural areas. That is the message elected leaders and tourism officials focused on Friday while meeting with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Nungesser visited with nearly 30 mayors and other city officials and tourism representatives at Louisiana Spirits Bayou Rum Distillery in Lacassine. Louisiana Spirits President Trey Litel said the idea of Bayou Rum grew out of discussions in the duck blinds of Lacassine.
“My brother and I were sitting there talking about why there was no rum in Louisiana when we have all this sugar cane, so we decided right then and there to look into it and here we are about six years later,” Litel said.
The company, started in 2011, produces rum from locally grown sugar cane. The distillery opened its doors for public tours in 2013. Last year, it had 35,000 visitors, Litel said.
“And that’s just people coming off the interstate,” he said. “Tourism is so important to us. We knew from the beginning. That’s what’s fueling our growth.”
He attributes the increase in visitors and market growth to area tourism officials’ work in getting travel writers to “come take notes and write about us.”
“That has driven interest from all these different states,” he said. Bayou Rum is now available in 20 states.
Lake Arthur Mayor Robbie Bertrand said tourism is important to small towns, which often do not have much to offer in the way of economic development.
“Tourism is big time — the hotels, the restaurants, the Flyway Byway — especially for me being a mayor of a small town,” Bertrand said. “We aren’t on Interstate 10.”
He said tourism is important to Lake Arthur because it is located on a lake and in a scenic location. “We realize it’s our ticket,” he said “Industry isn’t so much; the obvious thing is tourism.”
Marion Fox, director of the Jeff Davis Parish tourism, economic development and chamber of commerce offices, said tourism is the best driving force for economic development in the parish.
“Economic development is tourism. It’s economic development, but it’s tourism,” she said. “That’s what we are trying to do here: Match up economic development projects with tourism to not only provide quality jobs for our citizens, but to also help provide cultural things for our visitors and citizens to do.”
Nungesser said the distillery and businesses like it make Louisiana special.
“These kind of establishments — people that will take a risk and an idea from a duck blind and make it a business, an attraction and something special for Louisiana,” he said.
“This is what we sell in Louisiana. Places like this that you don’t see anywhere else.”
Travel and tourism play major roles in economic development for the state, particularly in rural areas, by generating tax revenues and jobs, Nungesser said.
The state needs to focus more on marketing the outdoors and small attractions, along with its music, culture, history, food and drinks, he said.
“We’ve got to get people outside of the big cities to see the beautiful places like this establishment around the state,” he said of the distillery.