Correction to This Article
A Sept. 4 Q&A on Hurricane Katrina in the Travel section incorrectly referred to Dauphin Island, Ala., as Dolphin Island.

Katrina Q& A: Cancellation Policies, Refunds and More

By Cindy Loose and Carol Sottili
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 4, 2005

It may seem insensitive to think about vacation plans in the wake of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But looked at another way, tourists are the economic lifeblood of many of the gulf coast communities that have been so cruelly inundated by water and whipped by winds.

Tourism is the top, or one of the top, industries in New Orleans, depending on how you calculate. Domestic visitors spent more than $4.4 billion in Orleans Parish last year, according to a study by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). In neighboring Jefferson Parish, where the New Orleans airport is located, U.S. tourists brought in another $945 million. And that's not even counting foreign tourists. Last year, 244,000 of them visited New Orleans -- an increase of 23 percent over the previous year, said Cathy Keefe of TIA. About 73,000 locals earned their living through tourism last year, the state-sponsored study showed.

The gulf coast communities soon will begin to struggle to their feet. Tourism will eventually be a tool that will help them stand. Until that day comes, here are answers to the questions we've been hearing.

When to Go

I was planning to visit New Orleans this fall. How soon will the city be ready for tourists?

Authorities have estimated that it will take one or more months just to empty the city of standing water. Neither private business owners nor government officials have had the opportunity to conduct damage assessment.

"Any guess about how long it will take to get back to normal is a wild guess," said Louisiana State University professor Jim Richardson, an economist whose specialties include tourism. "I'd say that to get everything back into shape, to re-create the New Orleans we knew and enjoyed, you're talking a year, maybe more."

I've heard that the recovery will be quickest downtown and in the French Quarter. True?

Most likely, yes. The historic French Quarter has one of the highest elevations in the city, so it suffered less water damage. Workers who visited the area Tuesday night reported that legendary Bourbon Street was emptied of water. A collapsed wall that exposed part of the interior of the famed Antoine's Restaurant represented a unique example of visible damage to a Quarter landmark. But assessments for less obvious damage have not yet been made.

Many large, well-built hotels weathered the storm fairly well. For example, the 14 Marriott hotels in New Orleans seem to have no structural damage, said company spokesman John Wolf. The company has engineers and equipment standing by in Baton Rouge, La., ready to return to New Orleans as soon as officials allow.

Miami seemed to bounce back quickly from Hurricane Andrew. Maybe New Orleans will do the same?

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