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Bienvenue en Louisiane

Francophone developments in Louisiana tourism

Published: June 1, 2024
Last Updated: June 5, 2024

Bienvenue en Louisiane

Courtesy of CODOFIL

To better accommodate French-speaking tourists, CODOFIL recently worked with partners in tourism to translate restaurant menus in the Lafayette area.

If tourists from around the French-speaking world come to Louisiana to laissez les bons temps rouler and take part in our renowned joie de vivre, they might be surprised if their contact with the French language here doesn’t go much beyond those expressions. This is not, despite popular misconception, because the French language has died in Louisiana. Most current estimates put the state’s population of French speakers in at least the tens of thousands, if not the hundreds of thousands. Still, after decades of pressure to Americanize in the twentieth century, many native speakers of Louisiana’s heritage languages learned how to go about their business without broadcasting their bilingualism. As elsewhere in these United States, English became Louisiana’s lingua franca, especially in commerce. The tourism industry was no exception. 

Recent efforts in Louisiana’s tourism sector seek to reverse this dynamic, however. The logic is simple enough: by providing services in French, we leverage an existing resource to better capture and retain an international market. Our linguistic inheritance becomes not only a “priceless” part of our culture, but also a value-generating renewable natural resource. There are already examples of this approach working. At Laura Plantation, the historic Creole site in St. James Parish, 25 percent of visitation last year came from French-speaking tourists. Joseph Dunn, director of communications, marketing, and public relations at Laura, gave a straightforward reason for the site’s ability to attract these international visitors: “We offer guided tours in French. Every day.” 

According to data from Travel South USA and Tourism Economics, visitor spending in Louisiana from France alone is forecasted to show a 30 percent increase in 2023 over 2022. The Oui! Initiative is an effort by CODOFIL to identify and catalog Louisiana businesses that can offer services in French. To be included in the database, a business must have at least one French-speaking staff member in a public facing role and/or be able to supply written materials, such as French-language brochures or a bilingual website. 

The Oui! Initiative encourages Louisianans to use their existing bilingualism alongside efforts to increase French-language materials and services in Louisiana businesses. The Lafayette en français project, a collaboration between CODOFIL, the Lafayette International Center, and Lafayette Travel, is a pilot program that has recently provided written translations for twenty Lafayette Parish businesses. Supported by the Lafayette Visitor Enterprise Fund, the project so far has focused on translating restaurant menus. 

Owners at participating restaurants say the response has been positive. “Having the menus available for French-speaking customers makes for a more pleasant experience all the way around—for them and for us,” explained Lori Walls, co-owner at Johnson’s Boucanière. “I think it helps them to know that we care about them, and that we want to make it easy for them.” And after all, if there’s one thing that Louisiana takes more pride in than our joie de vivre, it’s our ability to make guests feel at home. 

The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) is a state agency in the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism tasked with the development and promotion of the French language in Louisiana. For more information on CODOFIL, visit codofil.org or email [email protected].