Gov. John Bel Edwards has authorized hotels and motels to cancel reservations and other contracts with future guests to ensure electrical lineman, health care workers and thousands of others responding to Hurricane Ida continue to have a place to stay.
That could mean others will have a hard time finding rooms in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and other parts of southeast Louisiana.
The executive order, which lasts at least through Sept. 24 but could be extended, means hotels can hold the spots for all these workers indefinitely and not incur problems if they have to cancel bookings that had been made months beforehand, state officials said Tuesday.
The executive order is similar to one that was issued after Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. It was issued because hotel officials and others anticipated a coming crunch in space, particularly in the Baton Rouge area during the upcoming college football season, hotel and state and local officials said.
Hotels are providing beds for 25,000 people, just counting workers restoring power to southeast Louisiana's shattered electrical grid, federal officials said Tuesday.
Officials representing rural electrical cooperatives in Louisiana said Saturday, before Edwards' order was issued Monday afternoon, that at least 100 lineman had already been informed that they were not having their stays extended in Louisiana hotels. The reasons were largely unclear.
“Right now, the priority for the entire state of Louisiana is Hurricane Ida recovery, and we simply cannot afford to have any of our first responders, health care employees, or utility workers pushed out of their hotel rooms for any reason," Edwards said. "It’s unacceptable that those working around the clock to support our state would be kicked out on the streets.”
Entergy officials said they had not experienced similar problems.
In the Baton Rouge area, where close to 100% of hotel rooms are in use, Edwards' order likely means people looking to book a room over at least the next three weeks may have a hard time finding a spot.
"There's no room at the inn, if you want to put it that way ... for anybody to check in right now because of what's already here," said Scott Michelet, president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association and general manager of the Crowne Plaza Baton Rouge. "So, are there vacancies available? If there are, they're few and far between, and it would be a scavenger hunt to find any availability right now."
Nathaniel Tannehill, general manager of the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel, said about 70% of his 256-bed hotel on Bluebonnet Boulevard, just south of Interstate 10 is being used by workers responding to Ida.
Tannehill said some people with bookings in the coming weeks to months have already canceled those reservations on their own. Some of those people are from south Louisiana and have themselves been affected by the storm.
In other cases, he said, the hotel has been calling people and explaining that they are having to hold rooms for workers trying to help "rebuild our community."
"For the most part, they understand. They get it. You know, they're either living it, or they've seen it. They've heard about it," he said.
In New Orleans, the city has lost two major conventions over the next 15 days due to Ida, but tourism officials said they believe the hotels will still be able to handle the emergency workers and new visitors from reviving convention business as more of the city returns to normal.
"We expect to be back in business and handling visitors and handing emergency responders by next week," said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans & Company, the city's convention and visitor's bureau.
Between Sept. 1 and Friday, the city's downtown hotels — in the French Quarter, Central Business District and Warehouse District — had full power from the electrical grid restored.
The hotels, which comprise about 90% of the city's bed space and constitute 27,000 rooms, still needed about three days to get rooms back in condition for guests after getting power.
But Perry said he didn't expect having the fuller capacity will appreciably relieve stress in Baton Rouge.
Even before the grid was restored, New Orleans hotels were housing electrical lineman on generator power — albeit for a few days air conditioning at less than full blast.
Perry provided a rough estimate that New Orleans hotels are housing at least 2,500 to 3,000 electrical linemen.
Still, Edwards' order potentially poses an important question mark for out-of-town and out-of-state visitors planning to come to LSU and Southern University football games, especially if the order is extended beyond its original duration and into the heart of conference play.
The full impact wasn't clear Tuesday. LSU and other athletic departments didn't immediately respond to questions for comment.
The order currently extends, retroactively, from Thursday, Aug. 26, to Friday, Sept. 24, but Shauna Sanford, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the order could be extended if needed.
Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, noted that post-storm responders arrive in waves. First workers come to restore power and other basic services, and then later insurance adjusters, federal workers and contractors arrive to complete the restoration process.
"We don't know how long this will go on. My feeling is that this will probably have an impact on us for well over six months, as it has in Lake Charles (after Hurricane Laura last year)," Arrigo said.
He said Baton Rouge's tourism industry is working quickly to inform convention visitors and fans for future football games about the impact the hurricane response is expected to have on hotel space.
Both Southern and LSU have nonconference home games over the next two weekends. Then, on the weekend of Sept. 25, the two universities play out of town for their first conference games: LSU at Mississippi State University and Southern at Mississippi Valley State.
They both return for big conference games in early October: LSU against Auburn University on Oct. 2 and Southern against Texas Southern University on Oct. 9.
Perry, the New Orleans tourism official, said he didn't expect that many Louisiana residents looking for hotel space for an LSU or Southern football game in Baton Rouge would book a New Orleans hotel room and then face the drive back to their rooms on a game night.