Hospitality industry bouncing back as new hotels open in New Orleans amid pandemic

As COVID restrictions lift, the hospitality industry is making a comeback in New Orleans as new hotels open to guests.
NOLA hotel business bouncing back
NOLA hotel business bouncing back(fox 8)
Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 5:49 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Hotels took a massive hit during the pandemic with COVID restrictions and travel bans in place, especially in New Orleans-- a city that relies on tourism and the hospitality industry.

While some doors closed, others opened. A new hotel--The Hotel Fontenot-- is welcoming guests in Downtown New Orleans.

“We actually built the hotel, renovated it, got it open and then the pandemic hit,” said Mike Defrino, CEO of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. He said building a hotel in the middle of a global pandemic was scary and difficult.

“We had to close it for almost a full or about a full year so this is a second sort of a rebirth if you will—the second opening of the hotel,” he said.

This time, they’re eager to host travelers.

“The opening of this hotel right now as the pandemic is waning is symbolic of what we’re going to see in New Orleans and around the country.”

Just like at ONE11 Hotel-- the first hotel to open in the French Quarter in 50 years.

General Manager of ONE11 Lisa Miller said the hotel opened in December 2020--something she said was a little frightening but exciting.

“It was interesting,” said Miller. “There were days where we had one guest in the hotel when we first opened.”

Fast forward to today, every room in this boutique hotel stays booked.

“Everybody’s got cabin fever. Everybody’s been locked up for a year.”

The past year has been tough on the hospitality industry. Many jobs were lost, but as new businesses open-- like the hotels-- it means more jobs are created. The problem now is filling them.

“It’s been difficult,” said Defrino. “It’s been—everything you’ve read is true. It’s been a struggle to attract people.”

Miller agrees adding it has been hard. “You’ve got people that left the industry altogether,” she said. “And most of them have not come back.”

New Orleans city councilmember Jay Banks said the opening of new hotels is a sign the city is making a comeback. But there’s still work to do.

“Obviously the fact jobs have been at a standstill,” said Banks. “Our economy suffered tremendously and the fact that we’re not only bouncing back but opening new properties indicates that there is still a real interest in New Orleans.”

Now all eyes are on the summer months and into the fall as business picks up.

“It’s going to be busier which is a good thing,” said Miller, while Defrino said it brings optimism to the industry.

“New Orleans is back and that we’re at the right place at the right time,” he said.

The new Four Seasons Hotel downtown is also expected to open this year.

New Orleans and Company said hotel occupancy was in the 90 percent range over Memorial Day Weekend, making it the busiest weekend in the city since the pandemic began last year.

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