Every Louisiana destination puts its own unique spin on the state’s one-of-a-kind mix of culture, cuisine, music and friendly service. While groups frequent all Louisiana destinations, New Orleans remains the most popular choice due to its reputation for delivering successful and memorable meetings to groups from around the world.
No other city in the world can match New Orleans’ singular uniqueness. That’s why small and large corporate meetings and events return to the ‘Big Easy’ again and again.
Visitor growth received a boost from a steady stream of companies that meet in New Orleans for the first time and then return, including the Bronner Brothers Inc., an Atlanta-based producer and marketer of beauty products for consumers, beauty businesses and professionals.
“It was the city in which we felt most comfortable. It allowed our attendees to be their authentic selves in a comfortable and safe place. That’s important because we have a lot of gay, lesbian and transgender attendees, and it was important for them to feel at home. New Orleans made them feel like family first. I could tell they really appreciated us.” Erika Respress
Bronner Brothers Inc. held its annual meeting and show at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (ENMCC) earlier this year. The company also booked 10 hotels, including The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans.
The three-day event included more than 30,000 beauty shop owners, retail customers and employees. Bronner Brothers Inc. had previously met annually in Atlanta before bringing the event to New Orleans for the first time this year. The city’s welcoming culture played a large role in the decision.
According to Erika Respress, Bronner Brothers Inc. trade show manager and meeting planner, “It was the city in which we felt most comfortable. It allowed our attendees to be their authentic selves in a comfortable and safe place. That’s important because we have a lot of gay, lesbian and transgender attendees, and it was important for them to feel at home. New Orleans made them feel like family first. I could tell they really appreciated us.”
Respress says New Orleans & Company bent over backward to meet every need. “It’s the little things they did,” Respress says. “For example, you usually pay for the banners you need to advertise around a convention center but not in New Orleans. They also provided a band to greet us at the airport.”
Respress adds, “We were also the first group to have a parade inside the convention center. I asked for the parade and I thought I was pushing the envelope, but they did it. I’m telling you, you can’t beat New Orleans, and I have been all over the world.”
In addition, the ENMCC’s space perfectly fit Respress’ needs. “I had over 100 breakout sessions in the center and we occupied four halls,” Respress says. “I had a VIP reception in the ballroom as well as a church service and a comedy show.”
The most popular event took place off-site. “We hosted our welcome reception event at Mardi Gras World, a float-building studio and venue that provides Mardi Gras experiences year-round,” Respress says. “It was by far one of the highlights of the event. Then we had after parties at some of the hotels.”
In all, the meeting was a huge hit. “Attendees filled out a survey after the show and 91% of people wanted to go back,” Respress says. “We didn’t get any negative feedback.”
The high satisfaction level prompted Bronner Brothers Inc. to sign a long-term deal to return to New Orleans.
“We decided to go back right after holding our post-conference meeting,” Respress says. “We signed a three-year contract for 2021, 2023 and 2025. Our vice president loved the experience and decided to go back because of our amazing relationship with the CVB.”
Respress raved about the long-term deal. “We got amazing value from the contract,” Respress says. “We were actually grateful and humbled that the city welcomed us and wanted to bring us back.”
New Orleans’ ever-growing range of activities and experiences are driving its increasing popularity.
According to Cindy Hayes, CMP, DMCP, director of sales for PRA New Orleans, “Having a variety of activities in proximity to meeting hotels allows a company to bring multiple groups and have different, unique experiences that match the objectives of each program.”
Hayes adds, “With so many different off-site options available, and more available every year, and the way experiences can be customized to a group’s needs and wants, a participant would be hard pressed to repeat that same event or activity on their own or returning for a different meeting.”
Hayes offers an example of a company that held two different meetings in New Orleans last year just three months apart.
“The first meeting was a training program for 85 people who had their evening reception and dinner off-site on a riverboat paddle wheeler,” Hayes says.
“The second program three months later was for 700 leaders of the company with a second-line jazz parade from the host hotel to their welcome dinner, which was a New Orleans tailgate party,” Hayes says. “The second meeting also included interactive entertainment and a fireworks show over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Incentive groups commonly plan extensive, detailed programs for attendees to enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer. Hayes provides an example of one company that planned an incentive for 375 executives.
“The company’s planners made three pre-planning site inspections at different times of the year prior to the incentive,” Hayes says. “One pre-planning trip was dedicated just to tastings.”
Once the incentive was planned, Hayes and her team tracked the arrival of VIPs using technology.
Says Hayes, “The program consisted of some complicated transportation moves for which our PRA New Orleans patented transportation app was a godsend because it notified us and the client’s transportation team with a text message 10 minutes prior to the arrival of VIPs, making it easy track guests.”
After the attendees arrived, they enjoyed a smorgasbord of local experiences and activities. “There was one afternoon of seven different activities and excursions for the participants to choose from, and several VIP lunches and dinners at different venues,” Hayes says.
There was also a night of dine-arounds at 10 different restaurants for the entire group, which was divided into several sub-groups.
“The final night gala dinner was at one of our most desired off-site venues, ending with a fireworks show on the Mississippi River,” Hayes says. “The trip was an unforgettable experience that was appreciated by guests.”
New Orleans expects to attract even more groups as its meeting infrastructure continues to expand.
According to Stephanie Turner, vice president of convention sales and strategies at New Orleans & Company, “Within the last year, millions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure and riverfront developments. Among the most exciting projects is a $60 million Linear Park development and transportation hub along Convention Center Boulevard, bringing dining, entertainment and retail to the convention center in coming years.”
In addition, New Orleans continues to expand its inventory of more than 25,000 hotel rooms. “Thousands of sleeping rooms are within walking distance of the convention center, which in 2024, will offer a connected headquarters hotel anchoring the up-river end of the building,” Turner says. “New hotels are in the pipeline throughout the downtown area, many with on-site meeting space and within walking distance of major attractions and other venues.”
The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, located near the French Quarter, has been undergoing a $40 million renovation it calls a “redeux.”
The project includes the property’s existing 35,000 sf of meeting space as well as new furnishings and décor. Treatment rooms and the 25,000-sf spa will also undergo renovations. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
Another popular property, The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, plans to complete renovation for all the property’s guest rooms by the end of this year. The Roosevelt recently remodeled 60,000 sf of meeting and banquet space as well as the rooftop pool. The entire makeover is part of a $20 million project The Roosevelt has undertaken.
Earlier this year, Virgin Hotels New Orleans broke ground on its latest lifestyle property in the city’s Warehouse District. The 14-story, 225-room hotel is expected to open in 2021 at a cost of $80 million. The hotel will have a rooftop bar, a pool deck and multiple dining options, including the Commons Club on the ground floor, which will be open to the public and have a secondary entrance fronting Lafayette Street.
The plans also include a 2,049-sf ballroom and flexible meeting space on the second floor. It will join seven other properties in or planned for the Virgin Hotel portfolio. The brand opened its first hotel in Chicago followed by San Francisco earlier this year. Hotels are also in the works in Dallas, Nashville, New York and Las Vegas.
The Higgins Hotel & Conference Center, Curio Collection by Hilton recently opened on the campus of the National World War II Museum, with 18,000 sf of meeting space. The recent opening of the Higgins Hotel New Orleans offers a great option for smaller corporate meetings seeking a Warehouse District location.
The hotel offers 230 guest rooms and specialty suites, and premium amenities and services include: Cafe Normandie, Rosie’s on the Roof, Kilroy’s at the Higgins, Provisions Grab-and-Go Market & Cafe, a 24-hour fitness club, a private concierge lounge and a business center.
In addition, developers are negotiating with Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority to build a new 1,200-room Omni hotel with 150,000 sf of meeting space to serve as a headquarters hotel for the ENMCC, the sixth-largest convention facility in the nation.
Current properties combined with new and expanded hotels will provide a range of fresh options for meetings of all types.
According to Turner, “The opening of the Four Seasons Hotel next year will add to hotel options for higher-end corporate and incentive travel meetings. The newly-opened AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon, a first-of-its-kind product, is a great option for the pure incentive groups not needing meeting space but looking for butler-type service.”
Many of New Orleans’ most popular meeting hotels were among the 16 properties that hosted the Keller Williams real estate company’s annual meeting earlier this year at the ENMCC. The meeting included 19,000 franchise owners, employees and real estate agents.
Keller Williams returned to New Orleans after holding its last meeting there almost 10 years ago. Two years after the meeting, Mindy Grubb, CMP, the company’s executive director of events, made a site visit to the city.
“At that time, we noticed a big difference in the city in its recovery from hurricane Katrina,” Grubb says. “They had implemented a city-wide customer service improvement program and the quality of service went up significantly. I had sat in on some of the program’s training sessions.”
Grubb continues, “They told me they were very serious about the program. After, that we decided to move forward in contract negotiations and signed a deal for our next open date, which was this year.”
Most of the company’s meetings and events took place at the ENMCC, where Grubb had 30 breakouts.
“I love the convention center because it is so flexible,” Grubb says. “We take up about 1 million sf. As we continue to grow, New Orleans is an option for us because it has the space we need with walkable hotels nearby.”
Like Respress, Grubb also attributes a major part of the meeting’s success to New Orleans & Company.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Grubb says. “They helped us negotiate with hotels by letting them know what kind of economic impact we would bring to the city.”
The CVB also gave Grubb a tour of off-site properties to help her decide where to hold an off-property event for more than 4,000 attendees. “The venue we chose was Generations Hall, a multifunctional event venue,” Grubb says. “We rented the entire facility and streets in front of it. We had different sections of the hall designed and decorated like different neighborhoods in the city”.
Grubb plans to return to New Orleans. “We are negotiating 2028 right now,” Grubb says. “We signed our letter of intent and we are negotiating with the convention center and hotels.”
In coming years, Grubb and other planers will have even more options to improve every aspect of their meetings. According to Turner, “New Orleans is always innovating. The city is reimagining many of our cultural and infrastructure offerings, joining the old with the new, to present a completely new meetings experience. In the next five years, New Orleans will have a new, world-class airport terminal, a variety of new luxury hotel brands, including the Four Seasons and a convention center headquarter hotel, both overlooking the Mississippi River, and more than 5,000 rooms in the pipeline,” Turner says.
In addition, “There will be a new entertainment district surrounding the convention center with new shopping, dining and venue opportunities,” Turner said. New Orleans will also eventually have one of the largest continuous public riverfronts on the Mississippi River, and it will connect five New Orleans neighborhoods within a walkable, 2-mile area.
Although New Orleans gets the lion’s share of the state’s meetings and events, Baton Rouge is holding its own. About 80 miles from New Orleans, Baton Rouge offers convenient access to the Big Easy and its own unique destination advantages.
Baton Rouge offers rustic, historic mansions, museums and other structures with scenic views of the Mississippi River that also serve as unique and memorable venues. Creative venue options include floating casinos and meeting spaces at the ever-popular Louisiana State University football games. Baton Rouge also offers its own version of an annual Mardi Gras that attracts people nationwide. There are also several annual culinary, music and cultural events. In addition, Baton Rouge is constantly expanding its restaurants and venues.
Recently opened venues include White Star Market in the Mid-City neighborhood, which offers local unique food and drink as well as contemporary urban gourmet food. White Star Market is located within Square 46, a new mixed-use development.
The centerpiece of Baton Rouge’s meeting space is the expanded Raising Cane’s River Center, which features 17 breakout rooms and more than 100,000 sf of meeting space. Nearby meeting hotels include the recently renovated Baton Rouge Marriott, with nearly 30,000 sf of meeting space, and the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, with 20,000 sf of meeting space, next to the River Center.
Due to its location in the northwestern corner of Louisiana near the Texas and Arkansas border, Shreveport-Bossier attracts mostly mid-size groups from all three states.
Looking to market its location, the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau (SBCTB) promotes the destination as “Louisiana’s Other Side” and extols its “wide-open Texas spirit” Cajun cuisine and culture.
Shreveport-Bossier’s meeting space anchor is the 350,000-sf Shreveport Convention Center, along with 10,500 hotel rooms, including those provided by several 24-hour resort-style, riverfront casinos featuring top-notch entertainment.
Event space is also available at several indoor and outdoor attractions, including Gator Raceway at Gators & Friends, which features a challenging high-speed go-kart raceway that provides team-building and leadership-training opportunities.
Other attractions with event space include the 2-year-old Shreveport Aquarium, which also features catering through its on-site restaurant.
Louisiana is one of the surest bets for planners in the world because its destinations offer the properties, meeting space and venues necessary for successful meetings. Most of all, Louisiana offers destinations sure to provide indelible memories. C&IT