Marriott Aids Crescent City Revival

Marriott International is doing its best — and then some — to lure tourists back to New Orleans. How strong its effort is came clear in late April when Marriott invited a pack of trade journalists and meeting planners to the troubled city to celebrate a lobby renovation in the New Orleans Marriott and tour the JW Marriott New Orleans, the Marriott at Convention Center and the Renaissance Arts and Renaissance Pere Marquette hotels.

Paced by Marriott Marketing Manager Mauri Berry and Etienne “E.T.” Tardy, the New Orleans Marriott's irrepressible corporate sales director, the group spent a delightful April 25 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest (highlight: a transcendent set by former Led Zeppelin throat Robert Plant, bluegrass belle extraordinaire Alison Krauss and the Americana band led by T Bone Burnett), ate too much rich food and unwound at a stylishly casual spa.

While the hotels were the focus — the new lobby of the New Orleans Marriott is casual and spacious enough for serious networking and the Renaissance Arts Hotel, where the group dined on the last day, is a daring aesthetic dream — the city itself feels wounded. A tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, essentially drowned by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005, was sobering: every shotgun residence that was occupied was balanced by one that was Xed out, or condemned, and there was little evidence of, or even potential for, neighborhood life there.

At the same time, Bourbon Street seemed in full throttle, Jackson Square was teeming with tourists (even during heavy rain), legendary blues bar Tipitina's was packed, and overall, the center city seemed to throb with new, small, non-franchise businesses.

“The Marriott and Renaissance hotels of New Orleans have a strategy whereby we bring in meeting planners and journalists to give them a taste of what the city is like in the post-Katrina world,” says Berry. “We feel journalists and meeting planners have the most potential for bringing tourism back to New Orleans.”

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