New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary last year. For a city that lives to celebrate anything and everything, that’s a big deal.
New Orleans is a jewel that can’t be duplicated. It’s diverse and historic with music, food and deeply rooted traditions that sets it apart, all providing huge appeal for meeting planners and groups.
Yet, there are planners who feel just as strongly about Shreveport-Bossier in the northwest corner of the state. And, that’s good news. Louisiana offers choices.
The city’s joie de vivre, superb meeting infrastructure and the fact that attendees love it are just a few reasons the 2018 International Roofing Exposition with 10,076 attendees was set in New Orleans.
Tracy Garcia, CEM, show director with Informa Global Expositions, says, “Our exhibitor and attendee base love the multitude of activities New Orleans has to offer, from award-winning restaurants to art, architecture and live music. We survey our audience to see what cities they would like us to bring the show to, and New Orleans has been one of the top cities they’ve selected.”
Added to that, Garcia says, is the overall hotel product. “There is a property type, location and price point for everyone.”
“People want to come here, and they return repeatedly because it is uniquely authentic. It’s so instantly comfortable, generous and freewheeling; people give themselves permission to loosen up because it is not only OK but expected here.” — Terry Epton, CIS, CITE, DMCP
In total, the group used a large block of hotels, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and other venues for its February expo.
“We hold a welcome party the first night for all attendees,” Garcia says. “This year, it was at the historic Generations Hall, built in the 1820s as a sugar refinery. It combines a glimpse into the past with a state-of-the-art sound system that created a great backdrop to mingle and dance.”
Garcia calls the city’s convention center a superb facility. “From the director of sales to the convention service manager down to the folks working in the food courts, they understand the convention and meetings industry. They are always willing to help any way that they can. The facility is one of the most advanced in the country,” she says.
In addition to the team at the convention center, Garcia also lauds the staff at New Orleans & Company, the city’s CVB, for making planning easy. “They are very responsive and always on top of every detail. Their hospitality industry partners went out of their way to meet and exceed our expectations,” she says.
With a convention of this size, meeting and exhibition space are paramount.
“We use most of the capabilities offered by the convention center. The Wi-Fi capabilities are top-notch with a system of 183 Ximus APs and multiple bands. In addition, Wi-Fi was free in the public space of the facility,” Garcia notes. “The center also has cool digital products that can be used as sponsorships or show branding, including 52-inch monitors in the public space, an outdoor LED sign at the shuttle drop-off area and large, high-resolution signage at the entrance.”
Marketing assistance from New Orleans & Company also helped. “One challenge we have is that in our industry there is not a lot of drive-in traffic,” Garcia says. “However, the CVB went out of its way to help us market. A New Orleans & Company representative attended the prior year’s meeting to promote the city. They provided marketing assistance with custom promotion flyers, email address based on SIC codes and more.”
For some groups, the core hotel is meeting central. That was the case for the RenWeb Power Conference in July. Ginger Reed, director, value-added services with RenWeb, has high praise for the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, where the event with 1,100 attendees took place.
“Hyatt Regency New Orleans was a great location for us due to the size of the facility — the number of breakout rooms, size of those breakouts and number of sleeping rooms,” she says. “A large percentage of our customer base is located in the south, so location and ease of access made for a great fit, as well. We loved the fact that the hotel was close to the ‘action’ but not right in the middle of it. And, New Orleans has a great deal to offer as a destination.”
In addition to the variety of meeting space options, Reed liked the layout of space and the expertise of the hotel staff. “We appreciated how stacked the meeting space was for easy access between breakouts,” she says. “And, in nine years of hosting this conference, this team was the best! They were extremely visible and ahead of our needs at all times. There was great communication and availability pre-con, during
“The sales and event management teams were on it,” Reed continues. “Their organization, communication and commitment to every detail put me at ease throughout the process. During the conference, PSAV knocked it out of the park, as well, with internet connectivity in the meeting space. They also set up a table in one of the foyers to assist clients with connectivity on their devices.”
Connectivity is a critical issue for Reed. “This was our ninth annual conference, and up to this year, we had internet issues every conference. This year was different,” she says. “PSAV worked with us on delivering a conference with no connectivity issues at all. When you’re a software company training users on your system, and there are no outages during that training, that is huge.”
Reed says the group utilized a total of 34 meeting rooms — 30 breakouts, rooms for lunch and general-session and two conference rooms. “All rooms were set and refreshed without issue throughout the conference,” she says. “The catering team provided lunch. They moved people through seven to eight station locations very quickly. I don’t believe we’ve ever served lunch so quickly at any conference, not to mention the food quality was excellent. The staff in all areas worked with us to ensure the conference kept moving smoothly.”
Reed says there were no challenges in planning the event, but there were some uncertainties. “A few months out, we worked with the hotel on flipping some meeting rooms around for us to better meet our needs. After final approvals from another pending group, we were able to make those changes. It wasn’t a challenge, but a ‘what if’ in our planning,” she says.
The smoothness of the planning process was facilitated by the Hyatt’s staff. “They deliver on a quality experience and great customer service,” Reed says. “They’re a friendly team that loves their city and wants to make sure you and your attendees leave feeling like you’re family.”
To planners considering the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Reed says, “Do it! You won’t regret your choice in property or city location. You’ll have amazing service, people, food and music.”
No one knows a city better than an experienced DMC and that’s certainly true of Hosts New Orleans, a Hosts Global member, headed up by president Terry Epton, CIS, CITE, DMCP.
“We have a broad selection of meeting hotels for groups of all sizes, but that’s not necessarily remarkable,” he says. “We’ve got a 1-million-plus-square-foot exhibition hall with its huge complement of meeting rooms for breakouts, spacious and well-appointed ballrooms, a theater and more. We’ve got ample and growing lift for a city of our size, with a new airport opening in early 2019. We’re well-known for the walkability of our popular visitor areas. You can check all the boxes. But there’s more.”
There is something magical about New Orleans, Epton says, something that’s irresistible to the people who know the city, and that is why New Orleans is a “bucket list” place.
“People want to come here, and they return repeatedly because it is uniquely authentic. It’s so instantly comfortable, generous and freewheeling; people give themselves permission to loosen up because it is not only OK but expected here,” he says. “It’s as if people’s personalities shift gears to a new reference frame … one where they stay up a little later than they normally do. They likely eat a little more than normal and drink a little more, too. This all adds up to being less inhibited, less guarded than usual. It’s liberating. Isn’t that the magic we all crave — permission to lighten up, relax and find personal joy?”
Then there’s the fact that planners have so many choices. “There are endless variations to develop a jaw-dropping program,” Epton notes. “We have so many more themes and one-of-a-kind venues that planners must often decide what not to do because there is so much. Just choosing restaurants here is a wonderful challenge. It’s all so delicious.”
There are 1,550 restaurants in New Orleans, Epton says. “The most per capita by far in the USA, because ‘we live to eat!’ We also have a music scene that is world-renowned. Several areas around the city feature live music clubs. Taking over a funky music club or restaurant for an event is something groups often choose to do.”
One of the city’s most well-known venues is Mardi Gras World, which Epton says is a favorite with all kinds of groups. “Many groups choose to go with a familiar theme and venue complex that can host all sizes and in a wide range of budgets,” he says. “This would be at the venue complex that comprises the River City Venues, more commonly known as Mardi Gras World. We’ve used it for groups ranging in size from thousands to smaller incentive events for a few hundred. Mardi Gras packs a punch, and when you’re looking for a party, it’s a natural.”
More popular lately, Epton notes, is the National WWII Museum. “It, too, is a complex of venues that can all be used for groups of all sizes. Smaller venues, such as the Stage Door Canteen, a WWII-themed USO club, is good for intimate gatherings. Sections such as the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, with its WWII-era airplanes hanging from the ceiling and tanks and other vehicles on the floor, work for larger groups. The entire facility can host thousands,” he says.
There is much more to be said about hotels, venues and infrastructure. But the bottom line, Epton says, is simple. “New Orleans is inspirational.”
Think about it, he continues. “Jazz, the root of all modern music, was invented here and is evolving to this day. Famous writers came to New Orleans to be inspired and find their words. Truman Capote and William Faulkner wrote here. So did Mark Twain, Ann Rice, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Artists and musicians have been here for hundreds of years finding their sound … their inspiration.”
What stands out about New Orleans? Epton asks. “People who come here are inspired, including groups who meet and travel here today. This is an added value that you cannot put a price on.”
Indeed. It’s also hard to put a price on a name, but the New Orleans CVB is betting that a change will yield positive results. As of May 2018, the organization became New Orleans & Company, a name, they say, that “better reflects the work that we do and the people we serve.”
In addition to the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, scheduled to open in May, the city is spending many millions on the historic riverfront redevelopment projects, which will provide access to 3.2 miles of contiguous space from Spanish Plaza to Crescent Park.
Over the past few years, the Omni Royal Orleans has been upgrading various parts of the hotel, from two luxury suites to all guest bathrooms, carpets, linens and furnishings. On the horizon: a reimagination of the rooftop pool area.
The Hyatt Regency New Orleans recently completed a technology upgrade. It now offers a state-of-the art system with up to 2 Gbps of internet bandwidth, the largest within the city. With more than 850 wireless access points, attendees are now guaranteed to stay connected.
Located in the northwestern corner of Louisiana, the dual communities of Shreveport and Bossier City flank both sides of the Red River and offer excellent meeting and entertainment options for attendees and planners.
Omni Specialty Packaging, LLC, based in Shreveport, held its Omni-STIHL “Bayou State of Mind” seminar for two weeks at Eldorado Resort & Casino, drawing 50 attendees in each one-week session.
Leah Strickland, customer service representative with the company, says of the event: “Omni Specialty Packaging blends and packages a wide variety of two-cycle engine oils, passenger car motor oils, hydraulic oils, etc. We hosted a training seminar for territory managers, product managers and technical mangers from one of our customers, STIHL, Inc., last year. This event was based in Shreveport, so our guests could tour our manufacturing plant and our research and development laboratory. These guests were from all over the country, from Hawaii to New York.”
In addition to touring Omni’s plant and warehouse facilities, event attendees were treated to a welcome reception at the Eldorado’s Allure Ultra Lounge, as well as breakfast and meeting functions in the hotel’s ballrooms, meetings and lunch at the Regional Commerce Center at the Port of Shreveport-Bossier, a sunset roof function at the Remington Suite Hotel & Spa and dinner in the Remington’s Royale Ballroom. A day of tours and activities included guided fishing on Caddo Lake, golf at Southern Trace Country Club and sightseeing via limousine. The group also toured Shreveport’s new aquarium, just across the parking lot from the Eldorado, followed by a dinner on the patio of Salt, the aquarium’s restaurant.
Strickland has a multitude of recommendations for local expertise that planners can tap into.
“I highly recommend the Regional Commerce Center. Marilyn Haley and Michele Duet are fantastic to work with. The Remington Suite Hotel & Spa rooftop and Royale Ballroom have a warm, historical feel that our guests really enjoyed,” she says. “Kameron Simpson was a joy and had several great recommendations in utilizing the available spaces. This is a beautiful location, intimate yet spacious.”
Catering was also an important element. “We chose Maison Louisiane out of Natchitoches for our catering service for lunch at the Regional Commerce Center and for dinner at the Remington,” she says. “Keri Fidelak has a unique selection of menus. Everything they prepared was delightful, and all of Keri’s assistants were professional and friendly. In addition, Keri provided tablecloths for all offsite events.”
Strickland likes the indoor/outdoor spaces at the relatively new Shreveport Aquarium. “The rollup garage doors provide additional under-roof dining space with access to the fenced-in courtyard for a comfortable indoor/outdoor dining experience,” she says.
“Charlene Mahoney and her team were very accommodating and also provided a wide variety of menu choices.”
In addition, transportation was critical. “We contracted with iShuttle for smaller groups and transporting them to and from the airport,” Strickland says. “Philip Maxwell and his team go the extra mile to assist with any transportation needs. For the larger groups, we contracted with Peter Ramsey at Red River Trailways and Charlotte Stephens at Tri-City Charter. We had positive experiences with both companies.”
Strickland calls the day of recreation a huge success, thanks in large part to the guides. “The guided fishing trips were coordinated by Mike Echols. He knows how to run a bass tournament! Many of these guest anglers had never wet a hook before, and Mike paired them with seasoned, successful and patient fishing guides,” she says. “They also knew the history of Caddo Lake, which added to the great time our guests experienced fishing there.”
Local step-on guide Johnny Wessler led the sightseeing tour. “We highly recommend Johnny,” Strickland says. “He has a wealth of knowledge about our area and makes tours fun and exciting. Our guests rode in style in a limousine from Shreveport Limousine. The company provides quality, customized service. The sightseeing group was also impressed with a tasty lunch at Abby Singer’s Bistro inside the Robinson Film Center. The food and service is always on point.”
As for golfing at Southern Trace, Strickland says, “Nathan Barrow always aims to please guest golfers and never disappoints.”
Staff at the Eldorado Resort & Casino went above and beyond. “We have worked with Jessica Ray and Laurie Green and their teams many times. They are professional and go the extra mile. For example, on the day of departure, some of our guests’ flights were very early in the morning. As part of our company’s southern hospitality and customer service, we had an Omni employee and an Eldorado employee, Moe, in the lobby as early as 3 a.m. to send the guests off with a hug or handshake and a continental breakfast. Moe was very helpful in assuring that this small gesture was successful,” Strickland says.
Planners, she adds, should definitely consider the Eldorado and enlist the help of Ray, sales and catering manager. “Express the expectations and wishes up-front. Jessica will let you know if it’s possible. Honestly, she has not told us no yet!”
As with any event, Strickland notes, “I suggest staying organized, communicating often and expressing concerns and compliments as they happen. People get busy, and events are a team effort that require focus. I am extremely blessed to work with many people that are willing to share their various talents.”
New Orleans and Shreveport-Bossier City are just two Louisiana options. Other possibilities include Baton Rouge, Lafayette, the Northshore and Lake Charles.
Wherever groups choose to meet, however, one thing is certain: Southern hospitality will be front and center, as it is arguably the most deeply rooted tradition of all across the entire state. C&IT