Jazz Fest, "A Charmed Year"

April 27 2012 | Latest News
As the New Orleans Jazz Fest opens today, hotels are booked to capacity

New Orleans Jazz Fest returns hotels to 'sold out' status

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 9:00 PM Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 10:50 PM

Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune By Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune

As the New Orleans Jazz Fest opens today, hotels are booked to capacity, and any available rooms are selling briskly. But hotel operators say they are prepared for the crush of business that the two-weekend event brings.

"We are expecting what has now become a typical high-demand weekend," said Al Groos, general manager of the Royal Sonesta hotel on Bourbon Street.

Long removed from the minds of local hotel operators are concerns that festival occupancy will fall anywhere below sold-out status because of visitor worries about hurricane recovery efforts or economic strain caused by the recession of a few years ago.

"All indications are that it's going to be a really, really special year," said Louis Edwards, associate producer of the festival. "It's just a charmed year from a programming standpoint, and we know it's going to be a charmed year for the tourism industry."

According to the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, as of Thursday afternoon, 98 percent of hotel rooms citywide were booked for today and Saturday, matching last year's booking rate. For Sunday night, however, 85 percent of the city's hotel rooms are sold, ahead of the 78 percent that had sold by the same period a year ago.

Next weekend has booked ahead of last year's pace, said Mavis Early, the association's executive director, with hotels reporting occupancy rates of 97 percent for May 3, 98 percent for May 4 and 5, and 85 percent for May 6, the festival's last day, as of Thursday afternoon.

"We are definitely sold out and have been for some time," Andrew Done, director of sales and marketing at Intercontinental New Orleans, said of the first weekend of Jazz Fest. As of Thursday morning, there were still rooms available for the festival's second weekend, but only because a group that had been holding rooms canceled at the last minute, Done said. "We are selling them quickly, and at the current pace, we'll be sold out in a day or two."

Edwards said artists like Tom Petty and the Eagles came as a coups to the festival, driving ticket sales early on.

"A lot of artists we've been trying to get for years came through. When that happens, you get a swell of momentum," Edwards said. "And then after you've booked everything to get a call from Bruce Springsteen, it just goes to another level."

Jazz Fest announced that Springsteen would be performing after releasing the original lineup.

But before booking Springsteen, Edwards said Jazz Fest had to consider whether the capital outlay required to support such a major act would provide the necessary return on its investment. After examining the numbers, Edwards said it was an easy choice.

It seems the decision already is paying off. After Springsteen was announced, the festival's VIP packages for the first weekend quickly sold out, Edwards said. The passes, which allow patrons to watch performances from exclusive areas, sold out about eight weeks sooner than they have in the past.

Hotels also have seen a boost from Springsteen. Both weekends are full at the Royal Sonesta, said Al Groos, the property's general manager.

"Full is full, we can't really go beyond that," Groos said. But Groos said he did see increased pressure for Sunday night stays because Springsteen's show ends late that day.

Springsteen, however, is not the lone driver of traffic, said Russell Miller, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, which began filling with Jazz Fest guests Thursday night and is expecting two sold-out weekends.

"The slate of performers this year has been really outstanding," Miller said. "It's equally spread between the two weekends."

Jaquetta White can be reached at jwhite@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3494.

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