The Struggle to Recover: New Orleans After Katrina

by : Andrew Regan

The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau has its work cut out trying to convince the world that post-Katrina New Orleans is the fabulous vacation place it was before the catastrophic events of 2005. In an attempt to revive the city's fortunes, the agency has received almost $9 million in federal funds and will be responsible for re-branding the city and persuading visitors to return to re-vamped, renewed New Orleans.

Ironically, the traditional tourist areas in the French Quarter (and especially Bourbon Street) were relatively unscathed by the storm, as it was the outer lying areas and neighbourhoods of the city that suffered the most damage. Even so, many people have been put off visiting New Orleans because of the negative perception given by the news coverage in the aftermath of Katrina, according to Kelly Schulz, VP of communications and public relations at the Visitors Bureau. As a result the city has invested in a new campaign named 'Forever New Orleans', which is designed to stress the Big Easy's 'resilience, unwavering spirit and culture'. "The one thing that Katrina didn't wash away was our culture and the experience and emotional connection people have with this city," says Schulz.

35 percent of New Orleans' operating budget is generated by tourism and hospitality, amounting to $5 billion in a good pre-Katrina year, so the campaign's success is critical to the city's economy. In 2004, the city attracted almost ten million visitors and employed 85,000 workers in the tourism sector. Post-Katrina the city has struggled to get anywhere near those figures, with only 3.7 million visiting during 2006. That creates a huge hole in the city's finances and many New Orleans residents wonder just how the city will recover, if ever.

However, things may be looking up if this year's Mardi-Gras is any indicator. Pre-Katrina visitor figures for the festival topped the one million mark and this year's were estimated at 800,000 - up 100,000 on 2006's figures. The event is crucial to the city's finances as it generates as much as $20.5 million in tax revenues alone. On the downside, although visitors are returning for one-offs such as Mardi-Gras, in general hotels in New Orleans are running at a dismal 35 per cent occupancy.

So, although the restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels in New Orleans' tourist area may be open for business, many of their proprietors are wondering if the visitors will ever return in the numbers seen before the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Only time, and perhaps an aggressive marketing campaign by the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, will tell.