Sadly, the word “authentic” has become to the travel industry what “all-natural” is to the food industry - something that sounds like it would be amazing for you, but more times than not, it’s just that prepackaged, proverbial corn syrup.
However, every once in a while you stumble upon a real way to crack a destination open and get at the heart of it. Meet “The Real New Orleans.” It’s a brand-new tourism concierge, providing visitors a backstage pass to the Big Easy.
“I’m your classic case of a guy who came down for a Jazz Fest weekend and never left,” laughs co-founder, Bill Taylor. Taylor moved from San Francisco to New Orleans in ‘96, and he’s certainly made his own mark on the town prior to this as the Executive Director of the Trombone Shorty Foundation and the executive director at The Tipitina’s Foundation.
“I’m so infatuated with this city that when my friends would visit, I felt compelled to show them an unbelievable time here,” he continues. “When I realized authentic travel was becoming something people sought out, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m sure that exists here.’ I started looking around and realized it didn’t.”
The Real New Orleans takes travelers on a personal tour of New Orleans, not unlike Taylor showed his close friends when they visited. “We interview the clients first,” he explains. “My partner Gary Zoller and I ask them a whole battery of questions.” The inquiries run a gamut from ‘describe your best travel experience ever’ to “would you be happier with a white tablecloth or eating in a dive?’ Once they get at the heart of a client’s passions, they can customize a package.
Yet, perhaps the most important question was one Taylor asked of himself.
“When creating the company, we had to figure out what made something authentic,” he explains. “How do you define authenticity? It took me a while but I finally realized it’s through people. We give our clients a chance to spend time with the real locals. I think our value is, we are creating a connection between the visitor and the people who actually create and perpetuate the culture here.”
Those connections have included cooking lessons with the queen of Soul Food, Linda Green, jam sessions with DJ Davis Rogan (the real-life inspiration for the character played by Steve Zahn on HBO's "Treme"), and even Garden District mansion house parties, complete with second line Brass Bands and fresh crawfish.
For Brooklyn-based Ricki Moskowitz, her favorite travel experience with the company arrived in a rather unlikely place.
“Among so many highlights of our week in New Orleans, the absolute best had to be meeting the folks in the Lower 9th Ward,” she says. “They shared so many personal experiences with us. Days before leaving New Orleans, we committed to returning each year. Our tour with this company was honestly one of the most authentic and top travel times we have ever had.”
For the future?
“I’m working on adding a swamp experience in,” offers Taylor. “I can’t give specifics yet, but I know a few characters down in the Bayou and I’m positive we can take people to a place they’ve never been before.”