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Millions and billions refurb New Orleans

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Roger St. Pierre surveys the post hurricane recovery

It’s already seven years since the fearsome Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the fabled ‘Crescent City’. Sadly there are still many unhealed scars in some of the poorer outlying neighbourhoods but it’s business back to normal downtown in the Big Easy, which has regained its crown as America’s fun city.

The tourism industry now generates more than US$5bn a year and 70,000 jobs for the city. Compared to 2010, lodging spending for 2011 showed a US$29m increase. Total visitor spend was US$11bn and preliminary results indicate that 2012 witnessed similar growth.

It is reported that 75% of the city’s 13.7m visitors in 2011 had a household income of US$50,000 or more while for 35% the figure was US$100,000. Significantly, visitors aged between 50 and 64 make up the largest demographic, accounting for 38% of the total. That statistic in part reflects the city’s status as a venue for high-level corporate and institutional events.

Some 40,000 business travellers hit town in May last year for the CTIA – The Wireless Association Convention – the biggest such gathering that New Orleans has ever hosted. Nearly 20 other professional and business events each hosted in excess of 3,000 delegates - and bookings for 2013 are looking even stronger.

‘Our ongoing plans are to reach a million visitors and US$11bn of visitor spending by 2018,’ says Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Stephen Perry.

‘Visitor demand for New Orleans is on a steady growth trajectory. Of course, tourism doesn’t just happen on its own – it is fuelled by marketing, public relations and aggressive marketing strategies and that costs money.

‘It’s a worthy investment because tourism generates jobs, expands our cultural economy, helps restore our core infrastructure and in the long run generates new tax revenue that benefits every citizen in every one of our neighbourhoods.’

There’s no shortage of enticing venues, The most recent addition to the portfolio is the Great Hall of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre, which made its debut in January, offering event planners a 60,300sqft divisible room, a 25,400sqft pre-function space and hotel-style facilities throughout.

The impressive and flexible 1m sqft centre is now more attractive than ever to groups large and small.

Other new features at the venue include a 4,460sqft junior ballroom that has an adjacent 3,420sqft rooftop terrace, a 980sqft indoor balcony and a 5,700sqft executive club lounge. The Mercedes Benz Superdome has completed a US$35m renovation programme, part of an overall US$336m refurb that began in 2006.

Hotel groups are also investing heavily. Now operating under the banner of Four Points by Sheraton French Quarter, the former Ramada branded property opened in July and has been extensively re-modelled. It now features 186 guest rooms and 4,375sqft of meeting space. Located in the historic Audoubon Building, on Canal Street, the Saint Hotel officially re-opened its doors in January following a US$45m purchase and transformation. It now provides 166 guestrooms.

There’s heavy investment being poured into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport too, including six new gates extension of Concourse C and improved car rental facilities. Additional direct flights from Baltimore-Washington, Chicago and New York give added connection options for travellers from the UK and Europe.

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