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Visitors are staying for longer and exploring more attractions in areas outside of the traditional tourist zones, all signs that suggest tourism will soon exceed pre-Katrina levels in New Orleans.

One of the most popular visitor destinations in the U.S., New Orleans finally has shrugged off the devastating tourism effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The August 2005 hurricane left sections of the city in shambles and played havoc with hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. All told, some 80 percent of the city was underwater for a time, and damage was estimated at $6 billion.

But the year before the hurricane, in 2004, tourism was at a record high, with 10.1 million visitors spending $4.8 billion in the city. After the hurricane, the tourism economy went downhill and ended at scarcely half that figure, even though before the storm the outlook was for another record year.

Visitor totals bottomed at 3.7 million tourists in 2006 and climbed after that — and 2012 ended at a high approaching pre-Katrina levels: 9.01 million visitors who spent $6 billion. Spending levels were the highest in the city’s history.

New Orleans boasts numerous attractions and often is on travel magazines’ lists of “America’s Favorite Cities.” While the fabled French Quarter is still one of the city’s favorite places to visit — and ours, too — a recent survey undertaken by the New Orleans Hospitality and Research Center notes others areas and venues are drawing crowds, too.

Many of the tourists — in fact nearly 60 percent — visited the city before and now are focusing on some of these attractions, according to the study.

Some of the venues that are popular today, say tourism officials, are the National World War II Museum — we found that very interesting on a recent visit and ran into a Rochester resident in front of us at the ticket booth — along with the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium, the Children’s Museum as well as the city’s many fine restaurants.

New Orleans’ jazz style is an ageless favorite — we always spend an evening at Preservation Hall — and the many nightclubs that feature the music are usually packed.

A stroll around Jackson Square is popular too, as are carriage rides through the French Quarter, and a cemetery tour is always popular. Other tours take visitors through some of the more devastated Hurricane Katrina areas, where many of the scars are still evident — along with several rebuilding projects.

With so many attractions, the average visitor stay has increased from 2.8 nights in 2004 to 3.8 nights in 2012. Business travelers are adding 2.8 days to their stays, according to the research.

The cruise industry also is playing a positive role in New Orleans’ comeback. In a year when cruise lines are focused on Caribbean destinations, the city is just 30 hours away from the Western Caribbean and the Bahamas. Cruise Line International Association ranks the Mississippi’s deep 200-foot basin at Algiers Point in New Orleans as the sixth-largest port in the U.S., and several top lines are docked there, including some nearly year-round. An estimated 60 percent of cruise passengers extend their vacation either before or after their cruise by staying in New Orleans.

(c)2014 the Post-Bulletin. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Tags: louisiana, natural disasters, new orleans

Photo credit: Tourists walk in the French Quarter of New Orleans. La Citta Vita / Flickr

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