New Orleans Marriott Collection

The lure of New Orleans always revolves around the city’s utterly unique Creole food and Delta music. For example, tell your clients to start their day with the Eggs Bayou LaFourche atop andouille Cajun sausage at Brennan’s on Royal Street, with a couple of Mr. Funks (champagne, cranberry and peach schnapps). Follow that with the flaming Bananas Foster desert, which was invented here, while the jazz clarinetist plays in the courtyard.

Can I get an amen? That’s probably the most iconic dining experience in New Orleans’ gastronomic ginormity, alongside obligatory stops at Emeril’s, Paul Prudhomme’s, Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and/or Galatoire’s (bring a jacket).

But there’s more to N’awlins than all that good eatin’. There’s the lacy wrought-iron, antebellum architecture of the French Quarter and Garden District. And there’s the whole muddy Mississippi soul thing—a gumbo-like mix of Huck Finn spirit and Robert Johnson pathos. In effect, this is America’s most original city and most European at once.

And we almost lost it there for a second. But tens of thousands of locals and out-of-state volunteers to this day won’t give up on the city following Hurricane Katrina, just like Holland and Italy won’t give up on their singular sinking cities: Amsterdam and Venice.

But maybe you’re thinking, enough of Katrina, already. Surely the people have moved on and we can talk about something else. Here’s the thing, the storm is now part of the city’s cultural fabric as much as beignets and Bourbon Street. Most locals will sit you on their front porch with some sweet tea and talk your ear off about Katrina ’til the sun sets over the bayou, because it was a momentous time in their lives. A ton of good stories to be told, too, about how so many people came together in a time of need. And some scary tales about being stuck in your attic while the water’s rising and live gators are swirling below. And more stories of loss. The boys in the band got all kinds of inspiration for singing the Blues for the next century.

Having visited eight times since the storm, it’s safe to say there’s never going to be a city that welcomes your clients like New Orleans. And in these times of economic misery, the prices have never been better and the mood is eternally upbeat.

“We already had our recession with Katrina,” says Mark Barton, director of sales for New Orleans Marriott. “So we’re feeling a lot of optimism right now because we’re coming back, and you know what, people want to eat well in good times and bad.”

Following an all-encompassing $38 million renovation in 2007, the 1,329-room hotel features an artsy new open lobby, completely redesigned rooms with new flat-screen TVs, and the new and contemporary 5 Fifty 5 restaurant and wine bar. The best part for many guests is the location. You’re on the edge of the French Quarter within walking distance to Harrah’s casino, and the streetcar line down St. Charles to the Arts/Warehouse and Garden Districts stops right outside the front door.

“We call ourselves the French Quarter’s Grand Central, because our guests tell us that,” notes Barton. “Right now this city is the best deal in the country. Our rates start at $99 depending on season and load. Compare that to San Francisco.”

canal street Two blocks up Canal from the Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans feels like a French Quarter manse with its intimate, ornate public spaces wrapping around a central outdoor courtyard. On a recent trip, Mr. Taittinger from Reims is a couple tables over during lunch. Yep, the champagne guy. But part of the historic grouping of buildings housing the Ritz-Carlton, also incorporates The Iberville Suites in the Maison Blanche Building, built in 1908. Ritz-Carlton manages the hotel and guests have access and charging privileges throughout the adjacent, luxurious brand-name property, without paying the luxurious brand-name room rates. Also starting around $100, the four-diamond property is one of the best kept secrets in The South.

The 230 large suites with sofa beds in the living rooms are designed with romantic Louis XIV replica furnishings, marble bathrooms and gilt-framed European oils. The lobby is also a French theatrical set piece, with the tufted leather couches, crown molding and columns, bistro bar and more fine art on the walls.