New Orleans Touts Carnival Success

Monday, February 26th 2007, 5:44 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The economic impact of the 2007 Carnival season was strong, if not quite up to the levels it reached before Hurricane Katrina, city officials said Monday.

The real financial effects of the two-week party that ended last week on Mardi Gras won't be known until sales tax figures are compiled in mid-March.

However, an enthusiastic Mayor Ray Nagin said he thinks the 2007 bash brought in about 80 percent of the $250 million that economic experts say Carnival generated before Katrina struck in 2005. That means about $200 million was spent this year.

``We had an incredible Mardi Gras season,'' Nagin said, touting the success of everything from hotel and restaurant business to police protection and sanitation.

The city reported that the number of permits and licenses for vendors during Carnival more than quadrupled from last year, when Mardi Gras arrived just months after Katrina's flood waters receded.

Nagin said restaurants reported business was strong, and hotel occupancy was at 90 percent or better both weekends leading into Fat Tuesday.

While hotel occupancy was strong last Mardi Gras as well, that was largely because thousands of rooms were still occupied by storm evacuees, said Fred Sawyers, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.

``This year was pure Mardi Gras impact,'' Sawyers said.

At the start of February last year, 22,000 of the area's 38,000 pre-Katrina rooms were usable. Of those, 14,000 were taken by evacuees and relief workers.

The city is still down roughly 7,000 rooms, with 31,000 available.

``I think we're at a point now where we can handle pre-Katrina volumes,'' Nagin said.

There were about 800,000 people in town for Carnival this year. That would be at least 100,000 more than last year's estimate, but short of pre-storm estimates of more than 1 million, Nagin said. The estimates are based on factors such as hotel occupancy rates and approximate crowd sizes.