New Orleans: Something to celebrate

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NEW Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras could provide a springboard to get the city’s hotels and attractions back on their feet.

UK operators have seen little interest in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but several expect media coverage of the event to spur demand for the city and the state.

Virgin Holidays is completing a health and safety audit of the hotels featured in its US brochure.

US product manager Angus Bond said: “We were aiming to have it finished by the end of April but now want it done by the end of March so we can start selling the city again.

“My biggest concern was over the displacement of the workforce, but all the restaurant, bar and hotel staff seem to be coming back.”

A city spokesman said 95% of hotel rooms – around 22,000 – are now back on sale, with several chains using the downtime to undertake full refurbishments.

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Bond said he was confident Mardis Gras would be the beginning of a revival for New Orleans and the Deep South.

“We didn’t see many cancellations after Katrina – most people just deferred until later this year,” he added.

Travel 4 US product manager Julian Lawman said he’d only received a few bookings since the disaster, but agreed Mardi Gras was vital for the city.

“There might not be many British tourists, but the world’s media are going to be there so it’s great that Mardi Gras is going ahead,” Lawman said.

The celebrations will be smaller in scale than in previous years, but the city promises its 150th Mardi Gras will be one to remember, with carnival Krewes intending to parade on several days between February 18-28.

A Louisiana Office of Tourism spokeswoman stressed the celebrations are state-wide and cities such as Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles and capital Baton Rouge will also feature parades and music.

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