New Orleans Is America’s New Boutique Hotel Wonderland
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If you’ve been, you know: There’s no city in the US like New Orleans. Its personality, history, patois and spirit… yeah, if you’ve been, you know. In the nearly 12 years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has developed so much from a tourism perspective — visitor spending ($7.05 billion in 2015) has been on a steady ascent since then — that the whole so-much-more-than-Bourbon Street wisdom is now a borderline cliché. In 2015, more than 9.7 million people visited the city, a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. To fill this demand from both domestic and international travelers, hotels have been multiplying across the city at the speed of an Olympic sprinter. Looking ahead, there are more than 20 hotel projects either about to open, currently under construction or soon to break ground over the next two years.
“There is a huge resurgence in development, especially within existing structures that have been vacant since Katrina or before,” said Wayne Hendricks, general manager of The Troubadour, a Joie de Vivre Hotels property that just opened this month, making it the company’s first in the South. The 184-room hotel occupies a former office building and historic landmark in the Central Business District, the tourist zone buffering the French Quarter and the Lower Garden District, and checks all the boutique boxes: lighting installations from a local artist, uniforms by a local designer and a rooftop bar pouring frozen drinks, a nod to New Orleans’ daiquiri drive-thru institutions. According to Hendricks, the hotel’s location in the conveniently-located-but-bland CBD represents part of the “resurgence of an area in the city where development has lagged for many years.”
Portland, Oregon-based Ace Hotels brought its millennial-minimalist aesthetic to the CBD in March 2016, joined shortly thereafter by The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, a Provenance Hotels property in a building that began life as a port warehouse and wholesaler of sailing supplies. The Old No. 77 features exposed-brick bedrooms and a restaurant by Top Chef runner-up Nina Compton, and was recently voted No. 2 of Conde Nast Traveler‘s top 10 hotels in New Orleans — the top spot went to Hotel Maison de Ville, once home to Tennessee Williams and bitters maker Antoine Peychaud.
“It’s an exciting time in New Orleans,” said Cody Bertone, general manager of The Pontchartrain Hotel, a historic Garden District tower built in 1927 and resurrected by AJ Capital Partners and New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh; the revamp has four Besh dining concepts and 110 mint-and-mauve rooms overlooking the Mississippi River. “People are seeking more localized, lifestyle experiences when they travel, and boutique hotels are great at meeting that need. Developers seem to have noticed that there was a hole in the market here in New Orleans, and with our city’s visitorship continuously on the rise, the demand is certainly there,” said Bertone.
This boom isn’t limited to just smaller (read: non-points) properties. “We’ve seen the larger branded [hotel] companies looking for concepts to compete for the millennial traveler who is looking for a unique and customized experience,” Hendricks said. The big boys are coming to play, and bringing plenty of points-earning and redemption opportunities with them. Marriott chose New Orleans for the first location of its youthful AC brand, recently imported from Europe, followed by a Moxy in the French Quarter. From the same company, a former University of New Orleans building is in the process of being converted to a dual-branded Marriott property, part SpingHill Suites, part TownPlace Suites connected by an 8,000-square-foot garden on Canal Street.
IHG, which already has a posh InterContinental in the CBD, is renovating and rebranding The Hotel Modern New Orleans as a Holiday Inn Express, on deck for first-quarter 2018. Hilton’s millennial-focused brand, Canopy, is opening in a 14-story CBD building next year, as is Choice Hotels’ Cambria line in the Warehouse District. And let’s not even start on the airport, where Hyatt and Marriott are among the proposed tenants as part of the $950 million expansion of Louis Armstrong International (MSY).
With all these new hotel openings, you have to wonder at what point New Orleans will hit the saturation point. Opening hotels in the city doesn’t come without its challenges, from navigating the endless red tape associated with historical designations to neighborhood blowback in gentrifying areas like Bywater, which has been in the news lately for some residents’ ferocious opposition to their hood’s Airbnb-ification. This is to say nothing of climate change and the irksome issue of the sustainability of building in low-lying coastal areas. For now, though, New Orleans will do what it does best: show the world a good time.
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Featured image courtesy of Ace Hotels.