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Housing Shortage Hurts New Orleans Hotels

Thomas Blair is the bell captain at the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans' Garden District.
Art Silverman, NPR
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Thomas Blair is the bell captain at the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans' Garden District.

The smaller-than-normal crowds at Mardi Gras this week symbolize the lingering impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' economy. The city's hotels are struggling to recover, but a shortage of workers is hampering their comeback.

Hotels make up a significant portion of the city's economy. Before Katrina, New Orleans had 38,000 rooms. By the last count, 28,500 are open.

The big downtown hotels that have reopened report staffing at about two-thirds of pre-Katrina levels, says John Williams, director of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration at the University of New Orleans. Three of them haven't re-opened at all.

At the Pontchartrain, an elegant, storied hotel of 118 rooms in the Garden District, manager Michael Rosen says he could use more staff -- he's actually doing more business this year than last year at this time. Wages are up, but it's almost impossible to find housing that hotel workers can afford.

Labor is so short, Williams says, hotel dishwashers are starting at $9 an hour. The hotels have resorted to creative solutions, including putting their workers in their own hotel rooms.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
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