Nov 24, 2011 9:35 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The New Orleans tourism industry, the city's economic lifeblood and largest employer, is about to get an unprecedented boost.
The city is preparing to host a string of major sporting and cultural events over the next 18 months, including college football's national championship game in January, the 2012 NCAA Final Four and SEC men's basketball tournaments, the 2013 women's Final Four and the 2013 Super Bowl.
Add those to an annual batch of bowl games and festivals, including Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and it's easy to see why the city's hotels, restaurants and other tourism-driven businesses are giddily anticipating a big windfall.
The festivities begin in earnest this week with the Bayou Classic, the annual football clash between rivals Southern University and Grambling State University.