New Orleans hoping Mardi Gras brings back the tourists, revenue

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NEW YORK -- Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the official reopening for tourism in the Katrina-ravaged city, said Sandra Shilstone, president & CEO, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

Just as Mardi Gras parades hit the streets, Harrahs New Orleans Casino will reopen -- on Feb. 17 -- and for that weekend (which is also Presidents Day weekend), it will be hard to find a room, said Anthony Sanfilippo, president, central division, Harrahs Entertainment.

In ordinary times, Mardi Gras is a $1 billion business. It costs the city about $5 million but brings in $21 million in taxes, added Arthur Hardy, publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide.

Theres no question the city needs the money. Shilstone said, The key to recovery is tourism, in a city where tourism is a $5.5 billion industry and employs 85,000.

The city is ready, too, she continued. The biggest problem is that most people think it is still under water. The areas tourists love are high and dry, and were spared major damage, though with some Katrina patina.

Dean Andrews, vice president, Orient-Express Hotels, reported about 27,000 of 38,000 total rooms in the city are available now. It is now a very accessible destination ... though there is still a long road to recovery. Orient-Express Windsor Court is fully operational -- and donating rooms to volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, whose father drowned in Katrinas flood waters, is the citys official cultural ambassador. He said, The culture of New Orleans was on life support, and it is not just New Orleans, its the culture of the U.S. ... Not to rebuild would be un-American.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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Look for additional details on this article in the Feb. 13 issue of Travel Weekly with Dan Luzadders cover story for an in-depth look at the recovery of New Orleans.

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