Five Years After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Tourism Rebounds

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Following the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina five years ago, New Orleans saw the number of visitors to the city evaporate. New Orleans' $5 billion tourism industry slowly recovered, however, and is now once again approaching pre-Katrina visitor levels.

In 2004, the year before the Category 3 hurricane struck, New Orleans saw a record 10.1 million visitors. In 2006, the year after the floods, the numbers shrank to 3.7 million. Last year the number was up to 7.9 million visitors, according to Smith Travel Research, a hotel-industry tracking firm. The average number of annual visitors, discounting 2004, is about 8.5 million.

Renovations and Re-openings

"(People) still have the crazy perception we're still flooded," said Tod Chambers, GM of the French Quarter's Roosevelt New Orleans hotel, in an interview with After the storm the 504-room Roosevelt underwent a $170 million renovation. It re-opened on July 1 of last year.

Smith Travel Research's most recent review of the top 26 domestic tourism markets, shows that New Orleans' percent increase in revenue per available hotel room compared to its peak monthly per-room revenue leads all markets. In May, for instance, New Orleans' hotel room revenue was only 7% below its peak month. By comparison, Phoenix, Ariz., hotels were 32% below peak.

BP Disaster Sure Didn't Help

Jennifer Day, director of public relations for the New Orleans Convention and Visitor's Bureau, told DailyFinance that while there has been a distinct rebound, tourism is a perception-driven industry, and there's still work to be done. Efforts to highlight the city's recovery were set back following the BP Deep Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in April.

The rig was located 100 miles off the coast of New Orleans, but the city has seen little, if any, damage from the spill. "We have five different federal agencies performing thousands of tests, and not one of the samples has been contaminated with oil," Day said.

Day notes that the city ranked No. 7 on the list of top cities in Travel + Leisure's 2010 readers poll. New Orleans did not make the list the previous five years. "We had a couple visiting from Canada tell us yesterday that they didn't see any signs of the spill or Katrina," Day said. "That's really the case for tourists. We just have to get the word out."
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