(CNN) -- Hoping to send the message that the Big Easy is open for business, the city of New Orleans has asked BP for a grant of $75 million over three years to mitigate any long-term effects the Gulf oil disaster may have on its tourism, the head of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau told CNN Monday.
Stephen Perry likened the request, made in a letter from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to placing booms in front of a marsh or a beach. "You want to be protected. You don't want the damage to come," he said.
Tourism dominates the New Orleans economy, he said, providing 70,000 jobs and a third of the city's operating budget. The BP request is "a pre-emptive approach," he said.
The first five months of the year, New Orleans was the top U.S. destination, he said, but "we're worried about what's going to happen next." And the city wants to fight the perception, as the letter says, that the city is "covered in oil."
"We think we are going to get this money," he said. "... What is so critical is, if we get this, we can literally mitigate potentially billions of dollars of damage here."
The money, he said, will go into marketing efforts to support tourism, a $5- to $7 billion "image and perception-driven" business.
"We've got to make sure the American public understands, when you come to New Orleans, you're getting a New Orleans that looks better than it's looked in six years," he said.
While the city has yet to see any cancellations stemming from the Gulf oil disaster, people are beginning to wonder if it's the right time to visit, Perry said. "The answer is, it's the best time there is."