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Hotels house Ida victims; Tourism leaders work to attract future visitors

Jefferson Parish has hotel occupancy rate of 69%
Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 6:32 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After a major hurricane, hotel rooms are critical to many storm victims and those helping with the recovery. And FEMA is housing thousands of displaced households in local hotels following Hurricane Ida’s devastating trek across southeast Louisiana.

In Jefferson Parish which sits just outside the city of New Orleans hotel occupancy is at 69% says Violet Peters, President and CEO of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Those occupancy numbers, they include FEMA, they include utility workers, insurance workers, Red Cross, all of those responders and the restoration workers that we want to make sure that they are here and having the opportunity to get the most work done possible and not having to commute in,” said Peters. FEMA’s John Mills said the federal agency is currently paying for hotel rooms for about 8,100 households displaced from their homes due to Hurricane Ida’s impacts.

Further, he said about 89% the households staying in hotels are from seven parishes.

Mills provided the following breakdown:

Orleans: 1,914

Jefferson: 1,759

Terrebonne: 1,200

St. John: 774

Lafourche: 584

St. Charles: 555

Tangipahoa: 473

Mills said number of families in hotels could decline, as more people make home repairs and return to their homes or move into rental units by using FEMA rental assistance grants or other funds.

Also, FEMA has provided $620 million in grants to help people with home repairs, rental assistance, and other needs not covered by insurance.

“How long people can stay in the hotels depends on their level of damage,” said Mills. Right now, more than eight thousand households are in hotels, FEMA’s paying for those hotels.”

Peter said there are about 8,000 hotel rooms in the upper portion of Jefferson Parish but some sustained storm damage. Lower Jefferson where Grand Isle and Lafitte are located suffered catastrophic damage from Ida’s CAT 4 winds.

“We still have as of the week ending the 18th, we have about 30% of our hotel inventory overall in upper Jefferson out of inventory due to damage and closures related to the storm,” said Peters. “Some of them are talking about months before they can reopen, some of our properties were really hit hard, to where they had to fully close. Some have rooms out of inventory, so that they’re partially open.”

In nearby New Orleans, Kelly Schulz, Senior Vice President of Communications for New Orleans & Company, a tourism marketing entity in New Orleans, says the city fared better and is open for tourists.

“Most of the recovery workers have departed from New Orleans at this point, and we want visitors to know that if they are ready to come to New Orleans for a weekend or for NOLA by NOLA or for a business meeting that we’re ready to host them,” said Schulz.

She said New Orleans & Company is spreading that message to would-be visitors.

“What we’re focused on is doing everything we can to bring in as many events as we can host safely and let visitors know that New Orleans is open and ready for visitors. We explain to them that most of the catastrophic damage that occurred with Ida was in those, you know, outlying parishes and that our hearts go out to them,” she said.

To be sure, Ida caused a setback for the tourism industry which was seeing some progress despite the pandemic.

“Showing the world that we can host big events is very important right now. You know, we’ve had a pretty tough fall so far. If you think about where we were going into the fall, we thought that it was going to be one of our best seasons of 2021, and we’ve had a few setbacks with, of course, the cancelation of Jazz Fest, we’ve had many visitors react negatively to the vaccine mandate rollout and then we had Hurricane Ida,” said Schulz.

“I can tell you what we lost due to the storm. We’ve had some big pieces of businesses that have had to cancel due to the storm, so you’re talking about just over 800 room nights that canceled and one was a big sporting event, one is a vets association meeting,” said Peters.

But like New Orleans, Jefferson Parish is working to attract future events.

“We are as a CVB working to make sure that we have business on the books for when we’re. The big challenge with that is when we’re ready,” said Peters.

Schulz said the city still has an abundance of available hotel rooms.

“There are plenty of hotel rooms that are open in New Orleans, we’re preparing to kick off an event called NOLA by NOLA on October 7th which is a series of music events that are going to be happening all over the city over the dates that would have been Jazz Fest,” she said.

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