New Orleans is a city that loves to do things in excess. From Mardi Gras to crawfish, the Crescent City lives large and that includes its luxury hotels. The past month, two more luxury brands—Virgin Hotels and Four Seasons—each have opened to huge fanfare helping mark the city’s re-emergence as a premier tourist and business travel destination in a post-pandemic world.
“Anybody who has ever visited New Orleans knows there’s something truly special about the city,’’ said Cody Bertone, general manager of Virgin Hotels New Orleans. “The locals are warm and welcoming, it has a captivating atmosphere that doesn’t feel at all stuffy, and you can inevitably find excitement around every corner.
“With Virgin Hotels New Orleans, we aim to embody that same sensation you get when strolling around town. The hotel feels playful and inviting, reflecting the Virgin brand and the welcoming charm of New Orleans,” he said.
As with each Virgin Hotels property, the 238-chamber (guestroom) Virgin Hotels New Orleans—located in the city’s Warehouse District—is rooted in the local community through design, food and beverage, entertainment and programming.
“This local touch gives guests a sense of place at each Virgin Hotels, bringing the destination into all elements of the stay and creating vibrant, inclusive spaces,” Bertone said. “Yet we strive to keep the levels of service, policy and quality of offerings the same, no matter the location of the hotel. We strongly feel that locals and potential visitors will be drawn to experience the hotel brand.”
The hotel’s corridors, for example, feature designs that include custom carpet, inspired by artist Henri Matisse’s 1943 art book “Jazz,” and Virgin Hotels’ signature red entry doors. Deluxe chambers each have soaking tubs, French wallpaper from Pierre Frey and Moroccan tile mixed with graphic Deco-inspired marble patterns.
But while the new Virgin Hotels property figures to bolster the luxury market in New Orleans, the bigger questions is how well has the city’s tourism and hospitality bounced back from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic?
According to Nadia Panasyuk, regional director of revenue management for Davidson Hospitality Group’s Pivot division—which manages the Higgins Hotel in New Orleans—since the beginning of 2021, the New Orleans hotel mark was hovering at occupancies in the mid-30 percent range, down from 2019’s 72 percent. In Q2 of this year, according to Panasyuk, the market reached 39 percent and it is expected to reach 53 percent in Q3.
“We expect that ramp up to continue into Q4 and onward,” said Panasyuk.
The 230-room Higgins Hotel opened in 2019 as an extension of the National World War II Museum that has been credited with bringing thousands of visitors to New Orleans, particularly as the number of surviving WWII veterans continues to dwindle to a precious few.
“At this time, we are seeing more repeat guests as we are most known for our proximity and partnership with The National World War II Museum,” Panasyuk said. “The Museum has a wonderful following and that includes the hotel.
“Tourism resurgence will depend more on vaccination progress and safety protocols that put guests at ease. While the demand for leisure travel is there the segment slowest to return is conventions. The Virgin and the Four Seasons are expected to increase competition, and offer more choices for the consumer, whether they are traveling for business or pleasure.”
Patrick Barrett, general manager of the luxury Loews New Orleans Hotel in the city’s Art District, is bullish about the next two quarters.
“When this past March hit, we went to 80 and 95 percent occupancy every weekend,” Barrett said. “That’s pretty indicative of the market now—heavy on weekend and slower during the early weeks.
“We expect the convention and business travelers to begin showing up again in September and October. I think it’s going to be a booming fourth quarter for the City of New Orleans and also for the first quarter of next year,” he noted.