New Orleans Travel Five Years After Hurricane Katrina

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In 2004, New Orleans saw 10.1 million leisure and business travelers. For 2005, the city was on pace to hit 10.6 million visitors. But then Katrina hit. By 2006, annual visitors had fallen to 3.7 million. That figure has rebounded to 7.5 million last year, but is still well short of the levels before the huge hurricane struck the Louisiana coast on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005.

Katrina and New Orleans

Of course Katrina will always be part of the city's history.

Shortly after the storm, tours started popping up showing tourists the devastated parts of the city, neighborhoods that most hadn't bothered to visit before the hurricane. Needless to say the tours were controversial. Families struggling to rebuild didn't appreciate camera-toting mobs traipsing through the ruins of their streets.

Since then, most tours have found a balance between education and respect, and today they remain part of the accepted tourism circuit.

"Leading up to it, I was questioning it myself," said Greg Hoffman who runs Gray Line's tours in New Orleans, including a Katrina tour. Gray Line started the tour on Jan. 6, 2006, originally as way to keep the company afloat.

"We were bombarded by the media in a very negative way," Hoffman said. "Questions about if we were profiting off other people's disaster."

Hoffman said the tours try to find a balance between being "revealing and still very sensitive to all of those who lived through the storm."

"Initially, they were a bit concerned those tours coming through. Once they realized what we were doing and the information we provide, they grew to accept it," Hoffman said. "Now it's just part of the background."

Initially, 85 to 90 percent of the company's business came that first year from the Katrina tours.

"That's why people were coming in. They wanted to see what happened," Hoffman said.

Today, it accounts for about 45 percent of the tour traffic.

"Certainly, the further we get away from Katina the more things are returning to the pre-Katrina norm," he said, adding, "Obviously it's going to be something that's going to be a part of our history forever."

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