Grappling to recover from one of the costliest and deadliest
hurricanes in U.S. history, Gulf Coast travel officials have taken
the first, very early steps toward rebuilding but warn that tourism
in the region particularly New Orleans, one of the top visitor
destinations in the country will take months to recover.
About two weeks after Hurricane Katrina battered the area with
150-mph winds and destructive storm surges as high as 30 feet,
travel in the region remained at a standstill as $60 billion in
federal aid began pouring into Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana,
and emergency officials continued working to provide basic search
and rescue and stabilization efforts for hundreds of thousands of
residents and businesses.
Travel officials said the situation was improving daily but
remained volatile with emergency workers still struggling to
rebuild basic infrastructure such as power, phone service, water,
airports and roads.
Tourism officials were continuing assessments, but in Alabama,
officials said the state’s primary tourist destinations along the
Gulf Coast were recovering quickly. Orange Beach welcomed visitors
back for Labor Day and Bibi Gauntt of the Alabama Gulf Coast
Convention & Visitors Bureau said Gulf Shores is expected to
follow soon. Part of Fort Morgan was already open to visitors,
while Dolphin Island was closed. Many affected Alabama hotels were
expected to reopen later this month.
In Mississippi, where $1.5 billion in tourism developments had
been under way, every one of the more than a dozen floating casinos
along the shorelines of Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis were
damaged or destroyed. Several, including Harrah’s Grand Casino
Biloxi and Grand Casino Gulfport, were torn from their moorings and
swept inland. The $235 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Biloxi
resort that had been scheduled to open this month was damaged, and
most hotels in the region were closed and projecting reopenings
ranging from later this month to the end of the year. While many
companies said they had plans to rebuild, in the short term, all
were concentrating on caring for employees.
In New Orleans still inundated with water that poured into the
below-sea-level city, submerging more than 80 percent of it tourism
officials said travel to the city was closed and would remain so
As the city struggled to evacuate remaining residents, and cope
with contaminated water, officials had already cancelled all
conventions through March 31, and it was unclear how the situation
might affect the renowned Mardi Gras celebration the two-week,
pre-Lent celebration that ends on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28.
“Our first priority is to the safety and health of our fellow
Louisianans ... Once the safety of our citizens is ensured, all of
our efforts will be focused on rebuilding,” J. Stephen Perry,
president and chief executive of the New Orleans Convention and
Visitors Bureau, said in a statement.
The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau whose St. Charles
Avenue office is closed set up an alternate site in Baton Rouge,
and said planning meetings between tourism and government officials
were expected in coming weeks.
While officials said all of the water could be pumped back into
Lake Pontchartrain within the next several weeks, and rebuilding
efforts, once they begin, are expected to move quickly,
reconstruction of the travel infrastructure will take months
because of the widespread damage.
The city’s convention center, which housed hundreds of stranded
residents awaiting evacuation during the early days of flooding,
will now require comprehensive renovation and will not reopen for
at least a year.
Phone service remains sporadic, and pockets of electrical power
were reported in the city, but other areas may be without power for
three to five months.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport reopened Sept.
13. with limited service. At press time, all incoming access to the
city and the port was closed, with ferry service suspended and
virtually all area bridges closed.
Airlines are being flexible with refunds on tickets, offering
options including refunds for certain tickets held to or from New
Orleans through Jan. 9, and others waiving fees through Oct. 31 or
Accommodating evacuees and emergency crews was snarling hotel
reservations throughout the region as more than 400,000 evacuees
swamped neighboring states including Texas, and hotels urged agents
and others to call to confirm reservations.
In the Gulf Coast, many hotels that were not damaged by the
storm now are full, serving as headquarters for essential personnel
such as emergency and construction workers.
Marriott and Sheraton were waiving late cancellation penalties
for guests scheduled to arrive at its New Orleans properties
through Sept. 15, as has Sheraton.
Hilton said most of its New Orleans hotels were closed for an
undetermined time based on direction from local officials including
the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, Hilton New Orleans Airport,
Doubletree Hotel New Orleans and Embassy Suites Hotel New Orleans.
Some, such as Embassy Suites Hotel Baton Rouge and others in that
city, are expected to be closed to arrivals through at least Oct.
15, while they accommodate evacuees or emergency crews.
A bright spot amid the widespread devastation may be that the
historic French Quarter so far has suffered less damage than other
parts of the city because it has one of the highest elevations in
Nearly all of the hospitality infrastructure survived, albeit
battered. Perry said several bars have opened in the Quarter as a
gathering spot for the remaining residents, though they have
nothing to sell. Many restaurants and businesses everything from
Brennan’s and Cafe du Monde to clubs like Hurricane City on Bourbon
Street seemed to have survived the hurricane with minimal
“Though we will be down for a period, there is a sense already
forming among our leaders and the people that we will successfully
be able to preserve all of those things which have made us world
famous, and that we will be able to rebuild an even more welcoming
vibrant city in which to live, work and do business,” Perry said,
adding that “the challenges are immense.”
The effects of the disaster are expected to resonate around the
region, where domestic visitors spent more than $4.4 billion just
in Orleans Parish last year, according to a study by the Travel
Industry Association of America. In neighboring Jefferson Parish,
where the New Orleans airport is located, U.S. tourists brought in
another $945 million. And that’s not counting international
travelers, 244,000 of whom visited New Orleans last year up 23
percent over the previous year, said Cathy Keefe of TIA.
Officials said that with ongoing recovery efforts that change
quickly from day to day, it’s not clear how quickly the region
might be expected to recover. Previous hurricanes such as Andrew in
Miami or Hugo in Charleston, S.C., didn’t wreak the same
devastation but still the tourism industries in those cities took
anywhere from several months to a year to recover.
“The birthplace of jazz, home of unique French and Spanish
architecture and the originator of the most renowned cuisine on the
planet has taken a terrible hit,” Perry said. “But its government,
business and tourism industry leaders are pledging that beginning
over the next few months the city will begin its efforts to be
reborn better than ever.”
The Travel Industry Association of America is partnering with
the Travel & Tourism Coalition and the Travel Business
Roundtable to offer tourism industry workers displaced by Hurricane
Katrina free use of an online job bank.
“With so many hotels, shopping and gaming attractions,
restaurants and other travel-related businesses devastated by the
hurricane, our industry was particularly hard hit,” said Roger Dow,
TIA president and chief executive. The site,
www.katrinajobs.org, is already online and
expected to be fully functional soon.
The association also is creating a special section to gather
information and provide links to travel industry efforts in support
of those affected by the hurricane. The site will include
statistics showing the travel-related economic impact on the
|CONTACTS: Tourism offices & CVBs|
New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
Alexandria/Pineville Area Convention & Visitors
707 Main St.
Alexandria, LA 71301
Baton Rouge Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
730 North Blvd.
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Southwest Louisiana/Lake Charles Convention &
1205 North Lakeshore Dr.
Lake Charles, LA 70601
Lafayette Convention & Visitors Bureau
1400 NW Evangeline Throughway
Lafayette, LA 70501
Louisiana State Tourism Office
Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors
Monroe/West Monroe Convention & Visitors Bureau
1333 State Farm Dr.
Monroe, LA 71202
Natchitoches Convention & Visitor Bureau
781 Front St.
Natchitoches, LA 71457
Ruston-Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau
400 North Trenton St.
Ruston, LA 71270
Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau
629 Spring St.
Shreveport, LA 71101
West Baton Rouge Tourist Information
2750 North Westport Dr.
Port Allen, LA 70767