Amid the CBD's office towers, sandwich shops and parking lots, a cinnamon-colored Beaux Arts building houses The Whitney Hotel (610 Poydras St., 504-581-4222; www.whitneyhotel.com). Inside, tiled floors and marble columns, complete with period moldings of eagles edged in gold leaf, offer a glimpse of turn-of-the-century metropolitan New Orleans.
"This is the last surviving example of this ... grand hall look [in New Orleans], which was done quite frequently at that time," says Marc Becker, director of sales and marketing for the New Orleans Hotel Collection.
The locally owned hotel group acquired the Whitney Hotel in August. Becker says preserving the hotel's historic feel is paramount. In the adjacent cafe, designers rotated the brass-plated letter "M" (for the Metropolitan Bank, the building's original tenant) to become a "W" for "Whitney." The remodeling effort transformed former bank vaults with gold-hued bars covering their doors into meeting rooms and a working kitchen. The property's current logo, an urn, reflects decorative elements of the building's façade.
Becker says there's a recent industry trend toward contracting out services such as housekeeping and security to third-party agencies. At the Whitney Hotel, the new ownership brought in its own staff, which had been trained to uphold company standards of cleanliness and friendliness.
"Our employees are vested in the property," Becker says. "They're engaged, they believe in it, they want it to succeed."
The Whitney is a 93-room boutique-style property that caters to business and leisure travelers, as well as convention visitors. One of the hotel's unique features is its large number of one-bedroom suites. Guests can use the common room for a meeting and working area. The transformation of standard guest rooms into suites is part of an ongoing property renovation to modernize the hotel while retaining its character. Guests receive free Wi-Fi, local telephone calls and newspaper delivery, as well as other amenities.
Becker says the only thing missing at the Whitney is an in-house ghost. In New Orleans, he says, stories of spectral presences can attract guests hoping to catch a glimpse of the paranormal. Instead, he promises a warm New Orleans welcome from staff.
"Even if you get all of the operational and movement steps correct, but you are not friendly, then people will not like your hotel," he says. "That's what hospitality really boils down to."