Housing Shortage Hurts New Orleans Hotels

Thomas Blair is the bell captain at the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans' Garden District.

Thomas Blair is the bell captain at the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans' Garden District. Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Art Silverman, NPR

The smaller-than-normal crowds at Mardi Gras this week symbolize the lingering impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' economy. The city's hotels are struggling to recover, but a shortage of workers is hampering their comeback.

Hotels make up a significant portion of the city's economy. Before Katrina, New Orleans had 38,000 rooms. By the last count, 28,500 are open.

New Orleans Tourism Impact

Hotel Rooms Open: Pre-Katrina, 38,000; current, 28,500

Leisure and Hospitality Employment: Pre-Katrina (Aug. 2005) 85,100; Dec. 2005, 44,700

 

Spending in 2004 On:

Lodging: $1.2 billion

Restaurants: $1.8 billion

Bars and Nightclubs: $323 million

Local Transportation: $199 million

Entertainment/Recreation: $430 million

Shopping: $974 million

Total: $4.9 billion

 

Source: University of New Orleans

The big downtown hotels that have reopened report staffing at about two-thirds of pre-Katrina levels, says John Williams, director of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration at the University of New Orleans. Three of them haven't re-opened at all.

At the Pontchartrain, an elegant, storied hotel of 118 rooms in the Garden District, manager Michael Rosen says he could use more staff — he's actually doing more business this year than last year at this time. Wages are up, but it's almost impossible to find housing that hotel workers can afford.

Labor is so short, Williams says, hotel dishwashers are starting at $9 an hour. The hotels have resorted to creative solutions, including putting their workers in their own hotel rooms.

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