Marriott tries an 'unconventional' approach

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Halfway through a four-year, $36 million overhaul, the New Orleans Marriott, a convention hotel, is turning to leisure visitors to help fill its renovated rooms.

"We're trying to be very creative with what we put out there," said Cory Chambers, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "We're trying to do unique packaging -- minivacations, family deals, girlfriends packages -- just to get people to open their minds to the idea of coming back to New Orleans."

The hotel endured many convention, meetings and incentives cancellations after Hurricane Katrina, and those segments have been slow to recover. Occupancy is down about 25% compared with pre-Katrina levels, said Chambers.

The Marriott has an 80-20 business-leisure split. "We are primarily a convention hotel, but we've always changed gears during festivals and on weekends to attract more leisure travelers ... but not consistently over time."

The New Orleans Marriott renovated its 1,290 guest rooms in 2005. The second half of the renovation, to be completed in 2009, kicks off this month. All 54 of its suites will be refurbished. Other elements of the revamp are a face-lift of the hotel lobby and main restaurant, including the addition of a Starbucks outlet; new decor, private workstations and free Internet access in the Concierge Lounge; upgrades to functions space; a replacement of all windows; a new fitness facility; new escalators; new laundry facilities; a renovated parking garage; and an upgrade of the fifth-floor pool deck.

The Marriott is offering a selection of packages to attract leisure travelers. Two, the Big Easy Bonding and Femme Pour Touts plans, are tailored for women.

Big Easy Bonding, based on two people traveling together, is priced from $349 per night through Sept. 30 and includes breakfast for two; a $50 dining voucher for La Cote Brasserie, Wolfe's in the Warehouse or Shula's Steak House; a $100 gift card for jeweler Mignon Faget; a tarot card, palm or tea leaf reading; two one-day streetcar tokens; a list of top Magazine Street fashion shops; and a praline "nightcap."

Crafted to coincide with the New Orleans Museum of Art's "Femme, femme, femme" exhibition, Femme Pour Touts runs until June 3 and includes daily breakfast and entrance tickets for four. Rates start at $159 per night, based on quadruple occupancy.

Four Legs or Fins, a family package, includes four tickets to the Audubon Zoo or Aquarium of the Americas. It is $159 per night through Sept. 30. The Lucky Sevens Escape includes a room upgrade, good luck voodoo dolls, a psychic reading and a list of area casinos. The package, valid from June 4 to Sept. 30, is $169 a night.

Call (866) 530-3763 or log on to www.neworleans.marriott.com.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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