Post Katrina, New Orleans Hotels Return

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Crescent City in August 2005, 273 hotels closed in New Orleans. Since then, nearly 200 of them have reopened, finds a new analysis from Smith Travel Research (STR).

Published last week, the analysis of New Orleans' post-Katrina hotel landscape reports on hotel closures and openings throughout the Gulf region. For instance, it shows that 109 of 129 hotels in the French Quarter and New Orleans' central business district closed immediately after Katrina. Of those, 99 have since reopened. Near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, meanwhile, 21 of 63 hotels closed immediately after the hurricane, of which 18 have since reopened.

Outside of New Orleans, the picture isn't as bright. In Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., for instance, Katrina forced 79 of 129 hotels to close, and only 31 have since reopened.

Although leisure travel is on the mend, a major driver of the hotel recovery is convention business, according to STR. The city hosted just 360 meetings in 2006, it points out, and has already hosted 676 so far this year. Plus, New Orleans will host six major sporting events between January 2012 and March 2013, including two Sugar Bowls, both the Men's and Women's NCAA Final Four, and the 2013 Super Bowl.

"The city has hosted several attendance-breaking citywide conventions this spring and is anticipating 2011 to be at or above the same level of convention room nights as last year," Nikki Moon, vice president of convention sales at the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, told STR. "With a robust calendar of conventions, as well as the list of premium sporting events here in 2012 and 2013, New Orleans has the strongest convention calendar we have seen in years over the next 24 months."

Although not all of its closed hotels have reopened, the city has nonetheless managed to rebuild most of its supply. When one of its largest hotels — the Hyatt Regency New Orleans — reopens in October, it will bring with it 1,193 guest rooms, giving New Orleans a total of 36,394 rooms — down by only 2,326 from the peak in 2005.

"As one of the most significant hospitality developments in New Orleans in over a decade, we will reopen as the city's premier meeting and convention hotel," the hotel's general manager, Michael Smith, told STR, which also pointed out New Orleans hotels' improved performance. Year to date, hotel occupancy is 70.1 percent, up from 62.5 percent in 2008; average daily rate (ADR) is $132.24, up from $118.51; and revenue per available room (RevPAR) is $92.77, up from $74.09.