According to the most recent official figures, around 18 million tourists now visit New Orleans every year. And they spend nearly nine billion dollars while they’re here.

Financial pundits keep telling us here in New Orleans that we need to diversify our economy, but nobody is telling that tourists and more and more of them keep on coming. This, in turn, employs more and more New Orleanians. But critics say the downside to this kind of growth is that work in the hospitality industry is low paid and there is no career path to success.

Try telling that to Warren Reuther.

Around 55 years ago, Warren and his brother-in-law built an RV park for tourists. To try and make a little extra money out of their visitors, they started organizing tours of the city. When the tours started to get popular, the boys bought their own tour bus. Today, their family owned company, Hospitality Enterprises, is made up of nine different businesses, including New Orleans Tours, Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours, the Airport Shuttle, the paddle-wheeler Creole Queen, and their newest addition, the riverboat Louis Armstrong.

If you’re a certain age and you’ve spent any time traveling, you’ll remember the travel agency. It was a storefront that you’d find in most malls and shopping centers. Inside these retail spaces there were people sitting behind desks, called Travel Agents. As a customer, you’d sit across the desk and tell the Travel Agent where you wanted to go. They’d find the cheapest tickets, hotels and rental cars and book them for you. And the kicker to all this – travel agency services were free.

Then, along came the internet. And travel agencies disappeared. Now, instead of an expert organizing your travel for free, you spend valuable time pulling your hair out navigating Kayak, Orbitz, Air B’nB, hotels.com, hertz.com, and so on. And you never actually know if you got the best deal. Well, good news. A company called Dream Vacations has figured out a way to harness the gig economy to the travel business. And they’re bringing back the travel agent. In a setup kind of like the Uber of travel, a person can work out of their house and be a Dream Vacations travel agent.

The Director of Loyalty Marketing and Brand Management for Dream Vacations is Kimberly Faiello.

Photos over lunch at Commander’s Palace by Jill Lafleur.

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