| Destinations - September 2007 |
During free time, a trip to Riverwalk Marketplace, New Orleans’ premier festival marketplace packed with shopping, dining and entertainment, is a fun-filled option. Built on the site of the 1984 World’s Fair along the Mississippi River, Riverwalk is within walking distance of the French Quarter, downtown and major hotels, and adjacent to the Convention Center and Aquarium of the Americas.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Metropolitan CVB
Alive And Well And Better Than Ever
By Diana Rowe
The city of New Orleans is alive and well and better than ever according to scores of meeting planners who have recently staged meetings in the Crescent City. Such praise is music to the ears of Stephen Perry, Kelly Schulz and the entire enthusiastic, hard-working staff of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOMCVB). Perry, the president and CEO, and Schulz, the vice president of communications for the Bureau, have not let the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina or occasional negative press deter them from their mission — diligently promoting their city as one of the premier meeting destinations in the world.
In an effort to become the most meeting-planner-friendly city in America, the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau recently launched the “New Orleans Commitment,” which will accelerate the focus on exceptional and personalized customer service via new customer service positions, shifts in
seasoned sales staff, the creation of new marketing tools and much more. Schulz explained, “Our message to planners is: seeing is believing. We encourage you to visit and then talk with our planners who have held meetings here. We know you’ll fall in love with New Orleans again.”
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, born in New Orleans in 1901, is widely recognized as the founding father of jazz. Armstrong’s influence as an artist and cultural icon is as strong today as ever. Attendees will recognize Satchmo’s standards in jazz clubs throughout the city.
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism
Perry added, “The elements that have made New Orleans a top meeting destination for decades remain true today and are in many ways stronger than ever: our culture, hospitality, culinary offerings, the walkability and overall value of the city, and one of the best convention centers in the nation. We’ve received wonderful feedback from meeting attendees who tell us they have never felt so welcomed, that our partnership with meeting professionals is second to none and that their entire experience in New Orleans was extremely positive. Our aim with The New Orleans Commitment is for every client’s experience to echo these sentiments.”
“International media still has New Orleans under a microscope,” admitted Schulz. “Although recovery for some areas is still in progress, New Orleans has had so many victories. Our downtown is renovated and is cleaner than it has been in decades (a project we began before Katrina). The one constant is that our number-one industry is tourism and hospitality, and testimonials from the corporate meetings market confirm that New Orleans is heading in the right direction and ready for meetings.”
Meetings Support Growth
Since Katrina, New Orleans has hosted numerous successful meetings, from city-wide events to small intimate meetings. Schulz said, “Companies such as Whirlpool Corporation, The Coca-Cola Company, Microsoft Corporation, Maritz Inc., The Sherwin-Williams Company, IBM and Konica Minolta Group have supported our economic growth by holding meetings here in our city. In 2007 alone, New Orleans safely and successfully hosted more than one million visitors for Mardi Gras, multiple festivals, major sporting events, corporate meetings and large citywide conventions.”
With $60 million in renovations completed, and all 12 of the Convention Center’s halls back in service, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center remains a key attraction for meetings in New Orleans. There are 20,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the center, which will host 94 major conventions, trade shows and meetings in 2007.
Schulz reported that airlines are continually adding new flights to the Louis Armstrong International Airport, which currently has 122 daily flights — 75 percent of its pre-Katrina flights.
The vast majority of hotel properties have completed renovations and upgrades since 2005. New Orleans has 31,000 of 38,000 hotel rooms open for business, which includes all but two of the city’s major hotels.
The Hyatt Regency New Orleans is expected to reopen in 2009 after an extensive renovation.
New hotel developments include The Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue with 250 guest rooms and approximately 18,800 square feet of meeting space, and the newly constructed Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel, which celebrates its first anniversary this month. The 450-room hotel has more than 7,000 square feet of meeting space.
Major hotel brands such as Hilton, Marriott and Starwood continue to show good faith in the future of New Orleans by investing in renovations and upgrades. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside has received more than $66 million for a series of ongoing improvements and renovations scheduled through the end of 2008. The Marriott New Orleans Hotel is undergoing an $8 million renovation for completion later this fall.
Located on the most celebrated parade route in the world, the 1,110-room Sheraton New Orleans Hotel is across the street from the French Quarter and near Harrah’s Casino, shopping, entertainment, world-renowned restaurants and more. The hotel has 105,000 square feet of meeting and event space including the Napoleon Exposition Hall & Ballroom — 30,000 square feet of contiguous space that can be divided into 12 individual breakout rooms.
The 1,256-room New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street, the largest of the five area Marriott properties, has 47 meeting rooms and 80,000 square feet in meeting and function space.
The Marriott New Orleans at the Convention Center, located in the Warehouse/Arts District, is directly across the street from the Convention Center and Port of New Orleans, yet within walking distance of the French Quarter. The 331-room riverfront hotel boasts 24,464 square feet of flexible meeting space.
Originally built in 1925, the 272-room Renaissance Pere Marquette was reborn in 2001 as a boutique hotel situated on the edge of the French Quarter, one block from Bourbon Street. Each of the hotel’s 18 floors is dedicated to a different jazz luminary, providing guests a chance to “dream with legends.” Renaissance Pere Marquette boasts more than 6,500 square feet of meeting and function space and a total of nine meeting rooms, including a 3,710-square-foot ballroom for up to 450 attendees.
The 217-room Renaissance Arts Hotel, located in the heart of the famed Arts District and attached to the Arthur Roger Gallery Project, is adorned with art hand-picked from the gallery’s curator. The hotel has nine meeting rooms and a total of 5,000 square feet of meeting space.
The JW Marriott Hotel New Orleans, located along historic Canal Street in the heart of the Central Business District, offers 494 guest rooms and seven luxurious suites, all of which are smoke-free, as well as 19,000 square feet of upscale meeting and event space, including a Grand Ballroom.
Denise O’Connell, producer for C2 creative, a New York City-based resource for producing and staging live events, selected the JW Marriott New Orleans as a destination for her client, a strategic holding company that manages a portfolio of global market leaders, including companies that operate in the disciplines of
advertising, marketing services, specialty communications, interactive/digital media and media buying services. O’Connell selected New Orleans for the company’s recent conference of 450 attendees, which included senior level management.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside, home to the newly renovated 90,000-square-foot Health Club by Hilton, has updated and redesigned the entire main building’s meeting space. More renovations are slated for 2008.
Photo courtesy of Hilton New Orleans Riverside
O’Connell said, “New Orleans is an exquisite tapestry: the people, music, food, cultural riches and unparalleled service. This is what defines New Orleans. Each year we provide everyone with engaging, interactive, informative and entertaining experiences,” continued O’Connell. “The traditional culture of New Orleans lends itself to providing activities that are experiential, rich and unique. We had an ‘official’ Mardi Gras parade down Canal Street to Broussard’s. The next evening was an indoor/outdoor event at The Van Benthuysen-Elms Mansion and Gardens with tarot card readers, psychics and more. The last evening was an event held at Mardi Gras World. The client said it perfectly — ‘New Orleans now has 450-plus ambassadors from all over the world.’” The key to a successful meeting or event in New Orleans, according to O’Connell, is to reach out and find resources unique to the city. “Local vendors, local color all created something spectacular that was not a cookie-cutter agenda. We also did a service project to build a playground for a school affected by Katrina. Interacting with the locals on a meaningful, relevant level made a great difference.”
Corporate America has rediscovered New Orleans not only as a viable meeting destination, but as a city brimming with “voluntourism” community service projects.
A leader in advanced imaging and networking technologies, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc., based in Ramsey, NJ, is just one of many companies that views meetings and events in New Orleans as an opportunity to advance their commitment to corporate social responsibility by helping the city and its people.
Why New Orleans? Bill Brewster, vice president of marketing, explained, “First, we look at the destinations that can accommodate 700 attendees plus guests. Then we review important criteria like easy access, multiple flight options, available amenities and activities, and finally, destinations of interest to attendees. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside was available with excellent conference and exhibit space, and the destination is typically a fun place with a higher interest since Katrina.
“One of our key components is function and exhibit space, and the Hilton Riverside’s three floors connected by escalators helped us maintain control of the attendee flow from breakout sessions to the technology expo. The self-contained space kept our attendees together without losing them, and the walkability gave them plenty of access to the city during their free time,” Brewster noted.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside recently completed $40 million in improvements, including the redesign of the front desk, a convenient guest services area with express check-in kiosks, an expanded business center and refreshed meeting space throughout. In addition, the Health Club by Hilton was upgraded, and the 360-seat Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, a local favorite, was added.
Brewster, who visited New Orleans well in advance of his meeting, appreciated the NOMCVB’s assistance. “They provided a private tour of the city that was absolutely spectacular, alleviating all our concerns. In fact, we replicated that tour for a few key people. The CVB gave us endless support by connecting with the Hilton Riverside, and suggesting possible offsite venues and tours.”
Brewster outlined his company’s efforts to give back to the community: “New Orleans truly inspired our company,” enthused Brewster. “As a result of visiting the McDonogh 15 School for Creative Arts, we put Konica Minolta’s corporate social responsibility plans into action. We pledged to support the rebuilding of this public charter grammar school, outlining a goal to raise as much as $200,000 for school repairs by generating donations from our company and employees, as well as our network of dealer and business partners. Members of the McDonogh 15 Jazz Band performed during our opening day, and students displayed their artwork. During our closing night celebration at Generation Hall, we raised approximately $70,000 alone. In addition, Konica Minolta will continue their support of New Orleans and the charter grammar school by committing to three scholarships.”
A bona fide cheerleader for New Orleans, Brewster noted, “The NOMCVB has a handle on their city. Trust the city and go with New Orleans. It’s in good shape, and the culture and history is there, alive and well, and coming back strong. Companies also have a great opportunity to contribute to rebuilding New Orleans and take home the best meeting memories possible — from the heart.”
Karen Grant, national sales coordinator for the New York, NY-based spirits company William Grant & Sons brought 70 attendees to New Orleans for their national sales meeting. “Our company president really wanted to show support for New Orleans and its people,” she explained.
Because they wanted a location in the heart of the city, they chose the 346-room Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the heart of the French Quarter with 17 function rooms on two floors, totaling more than 14,000 square feet. The intimate meeting features of the property were important to Grant because of her meeting-intensive schedule that included multiple breakout sessions and general sessions.
With the theme of “Play Like a Professional,” it seemed only natural that Grant would consider a sports venue, but she was one of the naysayers when the Louisiana Superdome was suggested: “I just didn’t think it was possible to rent the Superdome, but it is! Ours was a last-minute event, and our ‘turf party’ turned out to be the highlight of our meeting because, really, how many people can say they tossed a football on a major league football field?”
From game day to gala — the Louisiana Superdome transformed itself into a spectacular showplace for a corporate event hosted by enterprise software giant PeopleSoft.
Photo by Toby Valadie
Events at the Lousiana Superdome are hosted directly on the turf football field and can be as simple or as elegant as a planner desires, accommodating from 30 to more than 4,000. From an interactive reception with punt, pass and kick activities to a sit-down meal on the field, the Superdome offers a unique experience for attendees. In addition, groups can use the newly transformed Club Level, comprised of four Club Lounges each totaling approximately 20,000 square feet.
Rich With History
In a city rich with history, the Hotel Monteleone is a standout. With Bourbon Street just one block away, attendees are within walking distance of the exciting night life, rich culture and unique culinary experiences. With 600 luxurious guest rooms and suites, restaurants, an oyster bar, and the famous Carousel Piano Bar, the hotel offers a wide variety of accommodations and services. Hotel Monteleone, the closest French
Quarter hotel to the convention center, is a prime location with 19 meeting rooms and a total of 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
The newly renovated Superdome accommodates events on the field as well as on the newly transformed Club Level, which offers four 20,000-square-foot club lounges.
Photo by Toby Valadie
Jennifer Reichenbach is first vice president of Software Management Inc. (SMI), a Pittsburgh, PA-based provider of sales, marketing, customer management and Web technology for the destination industry. SMI selected New Orleans for their annual client conference of 75 attendees. She cited her company’s relationship with NOMCVB as helpful and invaluable. “Having our conference in the heart of the French Quarter,” said Reichenbach, “only cements how important location is to a successful meeting. The hotel assigned meeting facilities on the top floor of the hotel enabling our attendees to work undisturbed during the day. At night, we were within walking distance of the Quarter, and groups would head out right after the meeting. Several attendees reported participating in the haunted walking tours and sampling the great restaurants.”
Marie LaCortigla, a meeting planner for Honeywell International, a diversified technology and manufacturing leader located in Brooklyn Heights, OH, recently made her first visit to New Orleans since Katrina. “We love New Orleans,” said LaCortigla, “and are happy to offer our support. We returned to the Hotel Monteleone because we think it’s one of the nicest in the French Quarter, offering lots of history, ambience, impressive food service and exceptional attention to detail. The hotel bent over backwards to be accommodating. For example, we had a last-minute request for a Wi-Fi connection in a meeting room, and within 20 minutes we were up and running.”
LaCortigla suggested that planners take advantage of the fabulous dining in the French Quarter for private events. “We booked a private dinner at Commander’s Palace, an historic, renovated mansion. It has a beautiful courtyard, and we had the upstairs to ourselves with our own bartender. The menu consisted of half portions of filet and redfish, and dessert had to be their famous bread pudding.”
Jennifer McEwen has hosted two meetings at the Hotel Monteleone. McEwen, a senior specialist for meetings and events for Dublin, OH-based Cardinal Health, a global company serving the health-care industry, reported, “We chose New Orleans for several reasons: to bring business to the city, take advantage of their competitive responses to our RFP, and most of all, for the culture and friendliness. The Hotel Monteleone is unique as an historic hotel that is still family-owned and operated,” said McEwen. She was particularly impressed with the testimonials touting the hotel by its employees who made a conscious choice to return to New Orleans in order to continue working at the Monteleone. Moreover, she was amazed at the friendliness of the city’s residents who often stopped to thank them for coming to New Orleans. “It’s quite evident that New Orleans people take pride in their city and were so friendly and hospitable to our attendees that we have no choice but to return,” she exclaimed.
A company initiative at sanofi-aventis, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, is to bring meetings to New Orleans in a continuing effort to support the city. “We had many employees affected by the storm,” said Katherine Bronander, CMP, director, meeting planning and field communications for Sanofi-Aventis. “In fact, we were one of the first companies down there with medical supplies, including insulin, and we want to continue to support the city and our employees.”
Bronander, who works out of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Bridgewater, NJ, and her team of 10 are in the process of planning the company’s 10th meeting in two years in New Orleans. This fall’s citywide meeting will be the largest one yet, a joint venture bringing in nearly 1,600 delegates to the Crescent City.
With the help of the NOMCVB and a local DMC USA Hosts Destination Services, Bronander discovered several great offsite facilities: The Audubon Tea Room at the Audubon Zoo for a wonderful evening Award Recognition Event and Generation Hall in the Warehouse District.
Prior to the hurricane, Bronander often traveled to New Orleans for meetings, trade shows and association meetings, which was always a thrilling and exciting prospect. “But now, post-Katrina, the city is new and fresh, and the residents and hospitality industry are personally warm and welcoming, more so than ever. No matter where you are in the city, from restaurants to hotels, everyone is happy to see you. Instead of a standard hotel greeting, you receive a genuine greeting, a welcoming smile and frequently a firm handshake — just to thank you for supporting their city. The cultural mix, the flavor and the sounds of New Orleans are all familiar, but it’s a new attitude in New Orleans, and we love going there.”
Sanofi-Aventis encourages other companies to join them in supporting New Orleans. “There are plenty of voluntourism projects available, as close as steps from your hotel,” said Bronander. “These projects are great ways to incorporate teambuilding while you give back to the community. Whether you or your attendees can spend an hour or a day helping others, you will never be the same.”
Sanofi-Aventis meeting attendees have offered their helping hands on several projects including Tad Gormley Stadium, New Orleans City Park, the site for a broad range of outdoor athletic competitions, entertainment and corporate special events; a Habitat for Humanity project, Musicians’ Village, conceived by New Orleans natives Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, which will provide a home for artists; and the painting of local schools and cleaning up local parks.
For those planners who have read negative press, Bronander advised, “Do not pay attention to the news. I suggest that you go and see for yourself. Because it’s New Orleans, the press is focused on only the negative of the city, giving visitors an unrealistic picture. The hospitality of the city is better than it ever was, and New Orleans is ready to welcome meetings of all sizes. Instead of feeling like one of thousands, I feel like my business is important to New Orleans.”
Future Is Bright
Susan Katz, director of corporate events for Chicago, IL-based True Value Company, one of the world’s largest retailer-owned hardware cooperatives, will bring 5,000 attendees into New Orleans for their 2009 True Value Spring Market, an event originally scheduled for 2007. New Orleans has hosted past True Value events, according to Katz, in large part because of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and its 1.1 million square feet of contiguous space on one level, a walkable city with unique attractions, and entertainment and multiple flight options.
Since rescheduling her event, Katz has visited the city several times. “I am impressed with the renovations and improvements to New Orleans, particularly near the Convention Center. In fact, the Convention Center has never looked better, and most hotels are in better shape than before Katrina.
“We are confident that this will be an exciting and phenomenal experience for everyone,” said Katz. “In addition to wanting to get back to the city, we have stores and members in this area, and we all want to do our part in supporting the economy. We are excited about returning to New Orleans — we only wish it were sooner than 2009.” C&IT