Lewis Fader got his first glimpse of the
InterContinental Hotel in New Orleans French Quarter a few days
after Hurricane Katrina hit. It brought more relief than anxiety.
It wasnt as a bad
as we expected, said the vice president of North American
operations for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
Though there had
been no flooding, the broken glass, lack of power, a burned-out
generator and empty rooms with beds still made left an eerie calm
in the darkness that greeted him and other corporate executives as
they walked through the hotel that day.
But the mood was
decidedly upbeat last week as they greeted employees with a pep
talk and opened about 20% of the hotels rooms with everything but
full room service. InterContinental has now reopened all four of
its hotels in New Orleans.
The city has given
all our hotels a clean bill of health, Fader said. The water is
fine. The outgoing water is fine. The power has no more spikes, and
it is normal. We had to do some special things to prepare the hotel
for reopening, but a customer is not going to see any differences
in the hotel today. It is all back.
secretary of Louisianas Dept. of Culture, Recreation and Tourism,
said earlier this month that state officials would seek $1 billion
from Congress to help restore the states vital tourism industry.
She told tourism industry officials she expected that about 75% of
the downtown New Orleans hotels -- about 21,000 rooms -- would be
up and running by the end of October and that all but 5% of its
hotel inventory would open in time for the holiday
Loews Hotels, whose
New Orleans property also opened last Monday, is among the
operators hoping to begin luring tourists back to the city quickly,
even as it currently relies on the crush of construction workers,
Federal Emergency Management Agency employees, the Red Cross and
other relief personnel.
conventions a key
depends, in part, on restoring convention business downtown, which
may not happen until the first quarter of 2006. Some groups --
including a national librarians convention -- have said they will
book conventions beginning next year, raising hopes for a recovery
earlier than many had initially predicted.
While efforts focus
on reviving tourism, worth some $5 billion a year to Louisianas
economy, there remain significant hurdles, including finding
sufficient numbers of employees to work in the tourism
Many of those
workers lost homes and have relocated elsewhere, either temporarily
We have 100 rooms open in
the InterContinental right now and 100 employees out of a normal
staff of 350, Fader said. As we gather additional staff, we will
open more rooms. In some cases, we are housing employees because
they have nowhere else to go for the time being.
IHG has about 550
workers in its four hotels in New Orleans.
state officials were in Washington last week to plead their case
for resources to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast regions
shattered tourism economy, battered first by Katrina, then by
Testifying both in
person and by conference call before House and Senate
transportation subcommittees, officials told Congress the region is
losing some $15 million per day in economic benefits while the
tourism sector struggles to right itself.
But with a wish
list that includes $1 billion in federal assistance dedicated to
tourism recovery in Louisiana alone, and with a number of divisive
proposals -- including allowing new casinos in New Orleans hotels
-- gathering political baggage in the state, officials acknowledge
they have a long way to go.
They are also
battling perceptions of past political corruption in the state,
prompting both Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Gov. Kathleen Blanco to
assure Congress they are taking steps to audit and re-audit federal
funds to alleviate concerns that taxpayers dollars could be
Local officials and
business owners have a long list of daunting political challenges
that lie ahead.
More than 50,000
applications for low-interest small business loans filed to help
recover from the flooding and wind damage are causing a paper jam
in Washington. As a result, weeks after floodwaters were drained
from New Orleans, very few of these loans have been
Ralph Brennan, who
owns two restaurants in New Orleans French Quarter, told the House
Committee on Small Business earlier this month that small business
owners, who make up 97% of the tourism services in the city, are
struggling with federal loan issues.
should examine ways to reduce the paperwork required to apply for
business loans and grants to rebuild, he said. The process of
obtaining an SBA loan under these disaster conditions is extremely
and local businesspeople have told House and Senate committee
members that in addition to making government assistance more
efficient, they also need tax credits and direct federal
businesses also are waiting on insurance claims on their businesses
in areas where damage from the two hurricanes is now estimated at
about $60 billion.
While hotels and
restaurants are opening, many are doing so with smaller than normal
staffs. Brennan said some restaurants in the region are trying to
operate with 30% of their normal workforce.
bringing tourists back also revolve around attractions -- from golf
courses to historical and cultural sites -- that remained closed
last week and have uncertain schedules for reopening.
Even the doors of
the citys Welcome Center had yet to open.
destinations still reeling
While the French
Quarter, which escaped flooding and much of the damage experienced
elsewhere, is seeing tourists filtering back into the city, other
areas are not as lucky. In Lake Charles, another popular tourism
destination in Louisiana, Hurricane Rita brought new damage
following Katrina, costing the area an estimated $1.5 million a day
political winds that have long treated gaming and casinos with
suspicion in Mississippi are shifting. The state legislature there
has approved rewriting state gaming laws to allow casino operators
to build or rebuild casinos on land, a practice that had been
prohibited before the storms hit.
operators had traditionally been forced to build their gambling
houses on floating barges as a concession to a strong religious
community that opposes gaming.
hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to those facilities
(many barges were driven onto the beaches and into coastal towns by
Hurricane Katrina) legislators responded by changing state
Louisiana, even in areas that were not heavily affected by the
hurricanes, saw revenues drop more than 40% between August and
September as a result of the storms, according to the state gaming
control board. Some casinos that took in more than $20 million a
month in gross revenue have been closed since the
reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to [email protected].