As the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, we're taking a look at the Crescent City's tourism efforts and promotions. Although New Orleans in August might not sound like your idea of a good time, there are plenty of activities and specials running now through the fall that should entice you. Indeed, there are many reasons to visit -- don't let a little humidity stand in your way.
First, some encouraging numbers and some good news. Earlier this year, Mardi Gras attracted about 800,000 people and hotels reported about a 95 percent occupancy rate in the spring, the New Orleans Jazz Festival entertained about 375,000 people -- the highest crowd numbers since 2003, according to preliminary figures. The Essence Music Festival, which took last year off, came back this year and boasted more than 200,000 visitors and more than $100 million influx. The COOLinary New Orleans celebration (tel. 800/672-6124; www.coolinaryneworleans.com) is running through September, with three-course lunch menus for $20.07 and three-course dinners for $30.07. New Orleans also saw its first annual Seafood Festival, a Cajun/Zydeco Festival and the Creole Tomato Festival earlier this summer. Orleans Parish now has 830 restaurants in the metro New Orleans area, which is more than 100 percent of pre-Hurricane Katrina levels. Notable additions include the new brasserie Luke, the fourth restaurant owned by James Beard Award-winning chef John Besh, located in the Hilton St. Charles (formerly Hotel Monaco). Other new destinations include Alberta, on Magazine Street, Iris, and Riche, a Harrah's casino-Todd English partnership. For more on the restaurant scene, visit the website www.nomenu.com.
For the latest updates and local deals, check out New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/672-6124; www.neworleanscvb.com), whose website is well designed and easy to use. There are still some summer specials on dining, lodging, shopping, and tours, if you're interested in traveling before the season ends; click on "brochures/coupons." Flash animation alternates some descriptive catch phrases that attest to the city's indomitable spirit and its reputation for hedonism: "We allow more than three ounces of your favorite liquid," along with the mantra "Soul is Waterproof" and "Give your Diet a 3-Day Weekend." Actually, you can even go beyond what's offered there and visit the bureau's new site, 24 Nola (www.24nola.com), designed to give visitors the insight locals have -- a growing trend in travel promotion. You can build your own 24-hour itinerary, find out where the original muffaletta was born, or discover the farmer's market. The editor's pick section, rotated at least weekly with input by local notables, gives you a brief description of said destination or activity, with links to add a comment, add to your itinerary, or view it via Google maps.
The marketing effort is comprehensive and, to some extent, understandable, as misperceptions about New Orleans still persist, such as the city is still "closed" and that it is still underwater. While much has been accomplished in terms of recovery, Mary Beth Romig, director of communications and public relations for the CVB, says, "We speak a great deal about New Orleans being very much a tale of two cities. In many ways, it's business as usual, culture is alive and thriving, those historic parts of the city people know of are very much open and thriving. But there are parts of the city, particularly large parts of the residential neighborhoods, that have a long way to go in recovery."
Part of that struggle, no doubt, will show up fictionalized or otherwise inspired by post-Katrina New Orleans in the television crime drama K-Ville, which will debut in the fall on Fox. The show follows two police officers, and in a move that lends itself to both storytelling authenticity and economic development, Fox is filming the series on location. Some of the cast is working with Habitat for Humanity on days off, helping to rebuild.
Airlines are currently running a few sales to NO that may be helpful. American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) is having a sale on fall flights, valid September 1 through November 15. There is a fourteen-day advance purchase requirement, and a one-, two-, or three-night or Saturday stay may be required. The special has a blackout date of September 3 -- that's Labor Day. Sample fares to New Orleans include Baltimore or New York-La Guardia from $198; Cedar Rapids, Iowa from $228; Chicago, Tampa or Miami from $188; Phoenix from $298; Rochester, MN, from $258; and St. Louis from $228. United Airlines (tel. 800/UNITED; www.united.com) is running a sale for coast-to-coast savings, for travel August 16-January 11, 2008, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. There are a few blackout dates. Departures from Seattle to New Orleans, for example, are priced from $99 one-way.
There seems to be no short supply of hotel specials, either. Bookit (tel. 888/782-9722; www.bookit.com) has a special for the St. James Hotel, located two blocks from the French Quarter. Rates start at $69, about 50 per cent off regular prices, with no blackout dates (although Labor Day weekend will be higher), good for travel through September 30. Also if you stay three nights or more you receive two free tickets to an IMAX theater. The four-star boutique hotel has rooftop terraces, courtyards, a pool, and the award-winning Cuvee restaurant. Bookit also has a deal for Bienville House Hotel, advertising rates from $60, ten per cent off a two-night stay, 20 per cent off for 3 nights or more, plus two free aquarium or IMAX admissions. The sale is valid through September 20, and not valid August 4 or September 1-3. The historic hotel was recently renovated, from the lobby to its rooftop.
The AAA three-diamond rated Marriott (tel. 888/364-1200; www.marriott.com) in the French Quarter is offering a sale that's valid for stays any night of the week, priced from $79, through September 30, but you must reserve seven days in advance. The hotel is located just two blocks from Bourbon Street, Harrah's Casino, and the Audubon Aquarium; it's also within walking distance from Canal Street and Jackson Square. The promotion gives you about half off the regular rates and is valid for a deluxe room with one king or two queen beds Or try the company's luxury brand, JW Marriott (tel. 888/364-1200; www.marriott.com), priced from $99, valid for stays in a deluxe room (one king or two double beds) every night of the week, through September 30. The newly renovated hotel is located on Canal Street, in the city's central business district. Both specials require the code TZO when you book.
The newly renovated guest rooms at the boutique hotel International House (tel. 800/633-5770; www.ihhotel.com) are currently available for $99 per night, through Labor Day. The hotel, itself a landmark Beaux Arts building, is located two blocks from the French Quarter and its décor is an extended homage to the city's heritage. Rooms were revamped by L.A. designer LM Pagano, who has lent her skills to Hollywood homes, and have ceiling fans, large windows, stereo/CD players, black and white photos of jazz greats, and other welcoming touches -- fresh flowers, anyone?
For those who want to come, stay, play, and help out a bit in the rebuilding effort beyond spending tourism dollars, W Hotel New Orleans (www.whotels.com) has a "Hands On New Orleans" package that allows you to do just that. Valid through December 31, you sign up for one day of volunteer work through Hands On New Orleans, an organization dedicated to assisting in the recovery efforts (tel. 504/899-5589; www.handsonneworleans.org). The package also equips you with necessary items, such as lunch for two to go, two pairs of work gloves, transportation to and from the location, two cocktails at the end of the day and one Bliss in a box, with hot salt scrub, body butter and more, for your sore muscles. The package price starts at $239 and ten percent of your room rate will be donated to Hands On New Orleans. Choose from stays at either the Poydras Street (tel. 504/525-9444) or French Quarter locations (tel. 504/581-1200).
Talk with other Frommers.com travelers on our Louisiana Message Boards.