June 19 2009 | Latest Newsby From Citybusiness Staff Reports
It was not so long ago when general manager Beth Ables did not have to work that hard to fill rooms at the Inn on Bourbon. With its prime location at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets, the spot was a natural draw for tourists wanting to immerse themselves in the French Quarter experience.
And then came Hurricane Katrina, which spared the 186-room hotel from damage but cut the legs off the New Orleans tourism industry. On the heels of storm recovery, a global recession has reduced travel budgets â€” leisure and corporate â€” even further.
“Before the phone used to ring off the hook,” said Ables, who’s managed the hotel for seven years. “Now we have to beat the pavement. We’re forced to be creative.”
Owner Robert Tonti has invested $6 million in renovations since 2006 and is kicking off a marketing effort to target small business meetings at the Inn. It marks a departure from the hotel’s sole reliance on leisure tourists, Ables said.
Part of the overhaul was a $1.5 million conversion of a jewelry store and art gallery on the ground floor into a 2,300-square-foot meeting area with capacity for 300 people. The renovation more than doubled the hotel’s existing meeting space.
Rooms with balconies, once exclusively the domain of leisure travelers, will be marketed to corporate clients during the Carnival season, Ables said.
“It was something we never had to do before,” Ables said, “but times have changed.”