Louisiana recovery
Published Jan/Feb 2006

Above: Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Darrow is open for tours. Plantation homes near Baton Rouge are in full operation.

Below: Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World in Jefferson Parish is open for tours. Many Mardi Gras celebrations across the state–including New Orleans–are going on as planned. Louisiana Office of Tourism photos

Before You Go

For hotel reservations and travel updates visit the AAA office near you. Click here for more updates from AAA.

The Louisiana Office of Culture Recreation and Tourism has an informative Web site that regularly updates the opening of attractions and more throughout the state. Visit www.crt.state.la.us and click on “status reports.”

Other updates are available at:
    www.neworleansnorthshore.com for St. Tammany Parish;

www.neworleansgateway.com for Jefferson Parish;

www.lafayettetravel.com for Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission;

www.visitbatonrouge.com for Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau;

www.visitlakecharles.org for Calcasieu Parish.

By Deborah Reinhardt
Managing Editor

It’s being called a rebirth. Following rescue and clean-up efforts, southern Louisiana is working to again welcome visitors.

Speaking at the Louisiana Recovery and Rebuilding Conference, held in New Orleans in November, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu called Louisiana a rich, cultural gumbo and “America’s greatest cultural destination, the soul of America.”

In 2004, visitors to the areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that were affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita spent $10 billion. Tourism is the second-largest industry in Louisiana.

Southern Louisiana destinations affected by hurricanes are on the mend and looking forward to the New Year. These updates are all current as of our press deadline. We encourage readers to call ahead or check Web sites listed below before making travel plans. And as always, your AAA office can assist with any travel plans you may have.

Louisiana welcome centers

All but two centers–New Orleans and Vinton–were open for visitors. Andrea Guillot, supervisor at the Slidell Welcome Center, said she’s seeing more tourists coming into the facility.

“New Orleans is coming back steadily,” she said.

Visitors can make hotel reservations at the center and get updated information on hotel availability, restaurant and attraction reopenings, plus road closure updates at the center.

Louisiana state parks

The two sites hardest-hit by Katrina–Fort Pike State Historic Site in New Orleans and St. Bernard State Park in St. Bernard Parish–are closed indefinitely, according to a state park spokesman. The state was assessing the cost and feasibility of reopening the two sites.

Fontainebleu in St. Tammany Parish and Grand Isle state parks were closed, but clean-up efforts were ongoing. There was no reopening date set for either sites as recovery workers were using them.

In the southwest part of the state, Sam Houston Jones State Park near Lake Charles and Cypremort Point State Park Near Franklin had significant damage from Rita. At press time, Sam Houston Jones was being repaired and Cypremort Point is now open to overnight visitors.

Other parks are open for visitors and residents to enjoy. Some parks in the northern portion of the state are open for day use as hurricane evacuees are using facilities. Those sites are Tickfaw State Park in Livingston Parish and Fairview-Riverside State Park in St. Tammany Parish. Poverty Point Reservoir State Park in Delhi now is open to overnight visitors.

Audubon Golf Trail courses

All but three courses in Louisiana’s part of the trail–TPC of Louisiana and Audubon Park, both in New Orleans; and Cypress Bend in Many–are open for play. Most of Louisiana public golf courses are open as well.

Affected parishes

According to the state tourism office, the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected 12 parishes in Louisiana.

Donna O’Daniels, executive director of the St. Tammany Parish Tourist & Convention Commission, said New Orleans’ Northshore experienced some flooding in low-lying areas from Katrina, as well as wind damage. Residents and business owners are making great progress toward restoring their properties. Many businesses are opening every day.

Most of the area’s attractions and restaurants are welcoming visitors. Hotels, inns and campgrounds on the Northshore are housing relief workers, but O’Daniels said availability changes daily.

About a dozen attractions remain closed, but the Bayou Lacombe Rural Museum was scheduled to open in January and Red Bluff Farms was projecting a March opening. Olde Towne Slidell is closed until further notice because of flood damage.

Jefferson Parish near New Orleans also has a mix of hotels and attractions open for business. Most hotels were accepting reservations, but some–Best Western Landmark, Best Western Westbank, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Select, Towne Place Suites and Wingate Inn–were housing restoration workers or renovating and not accepting reservations. Other hotels–including the New Orleans Lakeside–were opening in early 2006. A few–such as the Travelodge New Orleans in Metairie–were closed until further notice. Again, travelers should call ahead for reservations. Most attractions were open, including Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, Rivertown museums and the Treasure Chest Casino.

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport within the parish opened in September to passenger traffic. It’s best to check with airlines–American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and Southwest–flying into and out of airport for updates.

Some parishes escaped major damage from the hurricanes but felt the impact of the storms, largely from swelled population of evacuees and relief workers. In Lafayette, Louisiana’s Cajun country, more hotel rooms are becoming available as people find other forms of housing or return to their homes to rebuild. Lafayette came through both storms with little or no damage. According to the visitor and convention bureau, the city is ready to host visitors, meetings and conventions. In March, the Society of American Travel Writers will meet in Lafayette at the new Hilton Garden Inn.

And the usual slate of Mardi Gras events will take place in February.

Louisiana’s capital city, Baton Rouge, has the mixed blessing of being the largest city in the state now. A swell in population and traffic were challenges to Baton Rouge in the post-Katrina months. Leisure travel was almost non-existent in the final months of 2005, with the exception of December, according to Renee Areng, vice president of the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Areng said hotel availability is improving but recommends travelers call ahead directly to the hotel for reservations. In 2006, group tours, conventions and business travelers will keep the demand for lodging high.

Visitors coming into the city or new residents have new attractions to explore, including the Shaw Center for the Arts, the planetarium at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum and the new Louisiana State Museum that will open Jan. 28. Nearby plantation homes–including Nottoway, Oak Alley and Laura–are open for business. And a variety of events and festivals–including Mardi Gras–are set for January and Feburary.

In Southwest Louisiana (Calcasieu Parish), the Lake Charles area, hit hard by Hurricane Rita, held most of its holiday events, and plans to host the Lt. Governor’s Louisiana Travel and Tourism Summit Jan. 17–20, as well as the Outdoor Writers Association of America meeting in June.

In December, three hotels reported being closed for 30–90 days for repairs, while others were hosting relief workers. If contractors renew agreements with hotels for 2006, rooms could remain scarce for travelers, said Angie Manning Istre, communications manager for the SWLA Convention and Visitors Bureau. She added that there would not be a problem providing space for the tourism summit or the writers’ conference.

“Fortunately, those rooms were made well in advance” she said. The L’Auberge du Lac, which opened in May 2005, will accommodate the 200 to 250 tourism summit attendees, as well as more than 600 writers who will visit the area in June.

“Anyone planning on visiting the area should call the convention and visitors bureau so we can assist them in finding accommodations,” Istre said.

The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, one of the most scenic drives in Louisiana, is closed due to hurricane damage. The road brings about 300,000 tourists annually to southwest Louisiana, according to the convention and visitors bureau, and will welcome visitors again in the late spring.

Casinos, another draw to the area, had slightly better odds against Rita. While Harrah’s Lake Charles Casino & Hotel remains closed while the company evaluates future plans, Delta Downs Racetrack Casino & Hotel, L’Auberge du Lac and the Isle of Capri were open to the public.

Outdoor guide services were operational, with the exception of Hackberry Cajun Guide (closed for six months).

Mardi Gras plans continue to roll, beginning at the St. Charles Civic Center with Twelfth Night celebration on Jan. 6 and the Mardi Gras eve gala on Feb. 27. Three parades on Mardi Gras day will wind through Lake Charles–the Merchants’ Parade at 11 a.m., Red Hat Parade at 1:30 p.m. and the Krewe of Krewes Parade at 5:30 p.m.

Working to tell the story

The state tourism office wants Louisiana residents and visitors from neighboring states to realize areas around the state are open for business, and agreed to spend $550,000 in advertising to get the word out.

In addition, the Rebirth Rewards program (www.louisianatravel.com/rebirth_rewards) offers discounts, special rates and other incentives to tourists in the hope they will visit Louisiana once again.

“Promoting areas of the state that are open for business is key to restoring the state’s vital tourism industry,” Landrieu said.

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