Scholars currently debate whether tourism is a force of standardization that eradicates local cultures and traditions or whether tourism is a force of heterogeneity that enhances place distinctiveness. This article uses a case study of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans to explain the connections between global forces and local actions in the development of urban tourism. I argue that the globalization and localization of Mardi Gras are occurring simultaneously with the result being a mix of homogenizing and particularizing influences in New Orleans. I develop this argument by distinguishing between ‘tourism from above’ and ‘tourism from below’, a distinction that helps to explain how tourism can help undermine as well as promote local differences. ‘Tourism from above’ refers to the global level forces of commodification, standardization and rationalization that affect all cities. ‘Tourism from below’ refers to the ways in which local groups and individuals resist the homogenizing effects of globalized tourism and use tourism to anchor Mardi Gras in place and create new carnival traditions. Analysis of global‐local connections in tourism provides an important opportunity for theoretical development and offers a unique perspective for understanding tourism as a process of globalization and localization.