A CITY REBORN

THE WORLD HAS RAL­LIED AROUND NEW OR­LEANS SINCE HUR­RI­CANE KA­T­RINA AND NEW TOURISM AT­TRAC­TIONS ARE THRIV­ING

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - TRAVEL - WORDS: BETH J HARPAZ

New Or­leans had just 3.7 mil­lion visi­tors in 2006, the first full year af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Last year, there were 9.5 mil­lion visi­tors. The city has 600 more restau­rants than 10 years ago. And ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates are higher than they were be­fore the lev­ees broke on Au­gust 29, 2005, flood­ing 80 per cent of the city and killing hun­dreds.

At­trac­tions have blos­somed be­yond clas­sics like the French Quar­ter, Gar­den Dis­trict and The Na­tional World War II Mu­seum. To­day’s must-sees in­clude the hipster By­wa­ter neigh­bour­hood, the new Cres­cent Park along the Mis­sis­sippi River and a re­built his­toric mar­ket, St. Roch, that was de­stroyed by the flood.

Bour­bon St is still packed with tourists and live mu­sic once more spills out of seem­ingly ev­ery door on French­men St in the nearby Marigny neigh­bour­hood. But now visi­tors flock to the art houses on St. Claude Av­enue, too.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic time to go there,” said Diana Sch­wam, au­thor of the travel guide­book From­mer’s EasyGuide to New Or­leans.

“The post-Ka­t­rina energy that has emerged is in­sane. It’s just re­ally fun and ex­cit­ing.”

Scott Ber­man, US hos­pi­tal­ity & leisure prac­tice leader at ac­count­ing firm PwC, noted New Or­leans was not only a leisure tourist des­ti­na­tion but also one of the coun­try’s big­gest con­ven­tion des­ti­na­tions.

“The group busi­ness has come back, too,” Mr Ber­man said, adding that the city’s chal­lenges were not lim­ited to re­build­ing post-Ka­t­rina: “Their re­birth has also come post-re­ces­sion.”

Here’s a look at New Or­leans’s tourism come­back, in­clud­ing new at­trac­tions and Ka­t­rina com­mem­o­ra­tion plans.

THE FOOD SCENE

New Or­leans has al­ways been known for its unique food: Gulf seafood, Cre­ole cui­sine, beignets, po’boys and gumbo. But now the eth­nic and con­tem­po­rary res­tau­rant scenes, less no­ticed by many visi­tors be­fore the storm, are boom­ing, too, mak­ing the city even more of an in­ter­na­tional foodie mecca.

Its string of James Beard award win­ners has con­tin­ued un­abated since the storm. New Or­leans now fea­tures 1400 restau­rants, from holes in the wall to high-end, from clas­sic Cre­ole cook­ing to con­tem­po­rary, eth­nic and fu­sion cui­sine. Latin and Viet­namese eater­ies, long es­tab­lished in cer­tain pock­ets in and around the city, have mod­ernised and gone main­stream.

The craft cock­tail trend has helped fuel the re­nais­sance of the bar scene in New Or­leans, birthplace of the Saz­erac. Clas­sic restau­rants like Gala­toire’s, Bren­nan’s and An­toine’s are thriv­ing but so are those run by newer chefs. One of the big­gest su­per­stars now is Alon Shaya, an Is­raeli who left the city af­ter Ka­t­rina to hone his skills in Italy.

A TEXT­BOOK EX­AM­PLE OF RE­COV­ERY

Ber­man said this isn’t the first time a des­ti­na­tion has used a cat­a­strophic event to rein­vent it­self. For ex­am­ple, Mi­ami’s re­build­ing af­ter Hur­ri­cane An­drew in 1992 helped turn it from an old­school win­ter get­away to a stylish lux­ury des­ti­na­tion. Even the re­build­ing of Lower Man­hat­tan post-9/11 re­cast New York’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict as a tourist hub.

But that doesn’t mean New Or­leans’s re­nais­sance was in­evitable. It took the vi­sion, hard work and com­mit­ment of res­i­dents and of­fi­cials. But it also wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out gov­ern­ment fund­ing, pri­vate in­vest­ment, media at­ten­tion and the mil­lions of tourists who came not just for mardi gras and Jazz Fest but to in­ten­tion­ally sup­port the city by spend­ing their money there and par­tic­i­pat­ing in ser­vice trips to help re­build.

“We couldn’t have got­ten where we’ve got­ten in the past 10 years with­out a lot of sup­port around the world and we’re eter­nally grate­ful for that,” said Kris­tian Son­nier, spokesman for the New Or­leans Con­ven­tion and Visi­tors Bureau.

Ho­tels have played a role in the come­back. “Their ho­tel in­ven­tory has ex­panded, mod­ernised and suc­ceeded,” Mr Ber­man said, adding that the city has also “be­come a bit of a test kitchen for new prod­ucts and new brands”, es­pe­cially prop­er­ties with an ur­ban chic sen­si­bil­ity de­signed to ap­peal to mil­len­ni­als. For ex­am­ple, Mar­riott opened its first AC ho­tel in the US in New Or­leans and plans its first US Moxy ho­tel there, too.

NEW AT­TRAC­TIONS AND KA­T­RINA COM­MEM­O­RA­TIONS

New at­trac­tions in­clude Cres­cent Park on the Mis­sis­sippi river­front, a street­car spur into the trendy By­wa­ter area, a per­ma­nent Ka­t­rina ex­hibit at The Pres­bytere mu­seum and the Lower Ninth Ward Liv­ing Mu­seum, which tells the neigh­bour­hood’s story of dev­as­ta­tion and re­build­ing. The new Lafitte Green­way, a lin­ear park built on an old rail­way, will of­fer bike paths and strolls through a se­ries of neigh­bour­hoods. And the Vik­ing River Cruises com­pany is open­ing its first US of­fices in New Or­leans in 2017, with two ships for Mis­sis­sippi cruises.

The Au­gust 29 an­niver­sary will be marked with a day of ser­vice, a wreath-lay­ing, a “Re­silience Fes­ti­val” and hun­dreds of other events, from bur­lesque shows to art ex­hibits.

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