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