| Destinations - April 2008 |
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Superdome
By Diana Rowe
“Now is the time to fall in love with New Orleans all over again,” said Nikki Nicholson, vice president of sales for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau (NOCVB). “I would not say New Orleans is coming back. Rather, New Orleans is back, and it’s business as usual. In 2007, we welcomed six million visitors, and we’re ready to welcome more this year.”
Early last year, the New Orleans CVB launched “Forever New Orleans” — an aggressive, strategic marketing, public relations and direct sales effort. The award-winning campaign was designed to celebrate the city’s authentic culture, lure domestic and international visitors back, preserve the city’s hospitality industry and overcome incorrect perceptions about New Orleans among consumers.
According to Nicholson, “New Orleans is all about experiencing the senses. We’re a city that incorporates all five senses, from the smell of brewed coffee and freshly baked beignets, to the flavors of Cajun and Creole food like gumbo and étouffée, to the sound of street performers and jazz, to the colorful sights of the Mardi Gras floats, to touch and explore the artistic and cultural masterpieces of the museums and galleries.”
The New Orleans experience encompasses all the senses — the sound of street musicians, the sight of bright city lights and fireworks over the shimmering Mississippi, the smell of fresh-baked beignets and much, much more.
Photos courtesy of NOCVB
The good news is that the branding and advertising campaign is producing results. According to the NOCVB, the New Orleans tourism industry is off to a strong start in the first quarter of 2008. Major conventions, meetings and special events such as the NBA All-Star Game, college bowl games, Mardi Gras and festivals inject millions of dollars into the local economy. Furthermore, voluntourism has taken root in New Orleans. For example, during one week in February approximately 2,500 volunteers from the NBA Cares community expended more than 30,000 hours of hands-on community service to help build homes and playgrounds, revitalize schools and refurbish neighborhoods.
In this especially walkable city, attendees will discover cultural gems, unique entertainment and renowned restaurants around every corner, including traditional New Orleans-style, classic French, and signature cuisine by celebrated chefs and rising culinary stars. With nearly 900 restaurants in the city, more than ever before, new names such as Riche by Todd English, Iris, La Boca, Table One and Cochon echo alongside the world-famous names of Emeril’s, Brennan’s, Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace. The popular Metairie-based Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, famous for its charbroiled oysters, recently opened a second location in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.
In addition to New Orleans’ world-famous nightclubs and music venues, the city offers many attractions and recreational activities, including Harrah’s Casino, the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium and IMAX theater, Mardi Gras World, Café Du Monde, Mississippi River paddlewheel cruises, French Quarter carriage rides, the Steamboat Natchez and the Creole Queen, as well as plantation and specialty tours.
With numerous new and renovated golf courses, New Orleans is gaining fame as a Southern golf mecca. Moreover, the Crescent City is home to one of the oldest PGA Tour stops, played these days as the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which is contested every March at the renowned TPC Louisiana, a challenging championship layout on 250 acres just across the Mississippi River.
Getting to “The Big Easy” is easy, too. Nearing pre-Katrina service levels, The Louis Armstrong International Airport, 14 miles from the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, now offers 137 flights to 37 cities. Additional service due in May from JetBlue Airlines and Southwest Airlines will increase the total. Complimentary Wi-Fi is on the second level of the airport. To ensure adequate lift to meet demand, the NOCVB is in constant communication with the airline and airport representatives with regard to convention scheduling. Another step forward — the St. Charles Streetcar line to S. Carrollton Avenue has reopened. The entire line is expected to reopen in late spring 2008.
New Hotels And Venues
“The hotels and meeting venues are virtually new,” said Nicholson. The 3.1-million-square-foot New Orleans Morial Convention Center has a bright new look throughout its three levels. Surrounded by nearly 20,000 hotel rooms within walking distance, the comfortable center offers 140 meeting rooms, 12 separate/combinable exhibit halls totaling 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space and a team of 250 seasoned industry professionals with 1,165 combined years of experience.
The Louisiana Superdome, home to the NFL New Orleans Saints and other sports teams, is continuing major improvements. The Superdome’s four club lounges, which are ideal for corporate events, will get new windows and private-access escalators this year.
According to Greater New Orleans Inc., more than $400 million has been spent on hotel renovations in the metro New Orleans area in the past two years. Major hotel brands are investing in New Orleans by renovating and upgrading their properties. The NOCVB recently reported that 209 metropolitan area
accommodations are open, with 32,000 of 38,000 hotel rooms available. The vast majority of hotel properties have completed renovations and upgrades since 2005.
The 3.1-million-square-foot New Orleans Morial Convention Center has completed more than $60 million in renovations, including new flooring and furnishings.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Morial Convention Center
The 250-room Hilton New Orleans St. Charles Hotel (15,000 square feet of meeting space) held its grand opening last June. The 131-room Royal Cosmopolitan, New Orleans’ first condo hotel and first new hotel project to break ground in the city since 2005, will be managed by Salamander Hospitality LLC, a Sheila Johnson firm. Johnson, a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and president of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, said, “By stepping in, we’re helping in a small way but in a grand way to bring the city back.” The $50 million condo hotel is scheduled to open in early 2009.
The 30-year-old Southeastern flagship of Hilton Hotels Corporation, the 1,616-room Hilton New Orleans Riverside (more than 130,000 square feet of meeting facilities), continues its $66 million revitalization project through the end of 2008. The renovations include the 90,000-square-foot Health Club by Hilton as well as an update and redesign of the entire main building’s meeting space.
Located steps from the legendary French Quarter but in a quieter location, the 423-room W New Orleans (10,000 square feet of meeting space) is close to shopping, Harrah’s Casino and the Warehouse District. The other W New Orleans-French Quarter has 98 guest rooms.
The 438-room Westin New Orleans at Canal Place (21,000 square feet of meeting space) is undergoing a $22 million renovation. The 114-year-old Fairmont New Orleans, which sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina, was recently sold to a development company for $17 million. They plan to spend $100 million in refurbishments to the 500-room property, which may become a Waldorf=Astoria franchise.
The newly constructed 450-room Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel (more than 7,000 square feet of meeting space) is at the foot of Canal Street one block from the French Quarter. Open since September, the hotel offers nine restaurants including the new French brasserie Riche by Todd English, 528 Music Club, Besh Steakhouse and more.
Something For Everyone
Teri LeDé, senior executive administrator for the Las Vegas, NV-based Aristocrat Technologies Inc., chose the newly constructed Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel for their 100-attendee annual sales conference in part because of the hotel’s great location.
LeDé said, “The hotel sits on the edge of the French Quarter and Mississippi River. When we had downtime, we all headed off in different directions, and we walked everywhere. The Riverwalk Marketplace offered an extraordinary shopping experience, and the French Quarter gave our attendees unique world-
class New Orleans cuisine and exceptional live jazz entertainment.”
Companies the world over are attracted to New Orleans, a thriving cosmopolitan city that has come back stronger than ever in the years since Hurricane Katrina.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
For offsite events, LeDé said, “Mardi Gras World put on an unbelievably tasty banquet. Our attendees enjoyed wandering among the floats warehoused for the Mardi Gras parades and listening to a brilliant band that had an amazing rapport with our group. The band even had our company’s president and CFO singing and dancing on the stage.
“The old-world European charm, rich history, atmosphere, people, wonderful food and music made our annual sales meeting truly unique,” said LeDé. “We wanted to be part of the caring public helping New Orleans on its journey back after Katrina, and the results were better than we imagined.”
Long a favorite hotel for writers, the AAA Four Diamond Hotel Monteleone is ideal for corporate meetings and events as well. The 600-room hotel, one of the first landmarks in the French Quarter, offers more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space in 18 rooms, great restaurants and catering services, a fitness center, rooftop pool and the heavenly Spa Aria.
Arlene Sheff, CMP, is the senior meeting and event planner for Seal Beach, CA-based Boeing Company, the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. Last year, the company brought 175 attendees from all over the country to New Orleans for a departmental meeting.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside was selected because their more than 130,000 square feet of meeting space fit the meeting-intensive requirements. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside is located on the banks of the Mississippi River adjacent to the New Orleans Morial Convention Center and Riverwalk Marketplace, three blocks from the French Quarter.
To save time, Sheff planned her site inspection visit during the 2007 Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Professional Education Conference. Sheff was thoroughly impressed with the community effort to keep the hotels and grounds clean and maintained after the huge MPI conference. “In fact, after two nearly back-to-back events (MPI and Boeing), I had no problems with my allergy to mold, again a commendation to the great job that New Orleans is doing to keep their city meeting-ready,” Sheff said.
Although Sheff acknowledged that there is still more work to be done, she noted that New Orleans is truly a great meeting destination. She also spoke with many hotel employees during her May event. “Their work force is not quite at the numbers they’d like them to be, but everyone from housekeeping to convention sales was so gracious and made it clear that our group was welcome and needed.”
Sheff said that the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau welcomed the MPI group, and explained how important it was to the city’s economy for meetings to come to New Orleans. “I was so impressed with Stephen Perry, the president and CEO of the NOCVB, that I asked the New Orleans CVB to talk for a few
minutes at The Boeing Company opening reception. Jan Lohman, a convention sales manager for the NOCVB, attended, and emphasized how important the meetings industry is to the continuity of her city. Her comments about losing her children’s school during Katrina touched all of us, and were especially moving because we also have a New Orleans Boeing office.”
Approximately 290 Coca-Cola Company attendees convened in New Orleans recently for their annual global meeting. Eager to help the city, they engaged in voluntourism endeavors such as rebuilding a baseball field at a local stadium.
Photo courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company
Sheff explained that The Boeing Company, a proponent of education, decided to help the city by sponsoring a school. “Nearly all our attendees volunteered to help clean up one of the schools affected by the hurricane. Coincidentally, that evening we hosted a tour, reception and dinner at Mardi Gras World, and the marching band from the school that had entertained us that day was our entertainment at the reception, too. It was very heart-warming and touching,” she concluded.
Based in Plano, TX, Susan Brewer is the director of North America marketing programs and events for Alcatel-Lucent, a global communications solutions provider that selected New Orleans as their meeting site in order to support and give back to the community. The company held their Americas Sales Conference at The New Orleans Marriott, which provided sufficient meeting space and accommodations so that the 1,200 attendees could all be under one roof. Also, the hotel’s convenient location allowed easy access to several offsite team dinners at nearly 20 restaurants in and around the French Quarter. In addition, the company “borrowed” New Orleans’ powerful rebuilding theme because it helped reinforce the company’s own message of “Build! — Momentum Opportunity The Future.” To support the message, Brewer said they arranged for a local celebrity to speak to the group about focus, determination, and “how a positive attitude can turn any challenge into a positive experience.”
The 1,290-room New Orleans Marriott is undergoing a $38 million renovation, and recently unveiled a new lobby and restaurant. The property has more than 80,000 square feet of meeting space, including an impressive 27,500-square-foot ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in Louisiana.
“To further the company’s contribution to New Orleans,” added Brewer, “we gave a large monetary donation to the city’s Arts Guide Council in tandem with a gift from one of our larger customers in the area.”
Most noteworthy, according to Brewer, was that she had no complaints. “For such a large group, this is
pretty amazing. Everyone had nothing but good things to say about New Orleans and our experience there.”
Voluntourism in action — Participants from the Coca-Cola Company’s McDonalds Division annual global meeting rebuilt the baseball field at Wesley Barrow Stadium in Pontchartrain Park, a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Photo courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company
Brewer also noticed the refreshing attitude of the hotel staff and New Orleans residents. “We just felt that our group was welcome, and this showed in how we were treated from the senior management to the banquet staff at the hotel, and while walking New Orleans and visiting area restaurants for our dine-arounds. In addition, we were in New Orleans just a few days prior to Mardi Gras, so the whole attitude of the city was festive and refreshing.”
Partnership In Action
With a meeting theme of “Partnership in Action,” Michael Greto, CMP, North America event manager for global strategic events at The Coca-Cola Company, presented New Orleans as the alternative destination, so that the company could bring their theme to life at the annual global meeting for their Coca-Cola McDonalds Division.
“We felt that it was the right decision to support our partners and the community in New Orleans,” explained Greto. The 290 global attendees’ support extended to the local Ronald McDonald House, Coca-Cola Enterprises (their largest bottler), the community of Pontchartrain Park, the local working businesses and The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, which is one of their many lodging partners. A National Historic Landmark on the edge of the French Quarter, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, also known as the Crown Jewel of the Crescent City, reopened her doors in late 2006 after a major renovation and restoration. The venue’s reopening coincided with the company’s meeting dates.
The entire second floor is allocated as meeting space with access via a dedicated bank of elevators. This 20,000-square-foot area features one boardroom, two ballrooms and 12 meeting rooms, as well as prefunction areas. The 527-room hotel features more than 35,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a new signature restaurant and a destination spa.
Greto said, “Many of our attendees were so overwhelmed to hear the personal stories from staff at the hotel that lived through this awful storm, it only cemented to our attendees our decision to hold our meeting in New Orleans. One of our attendees who was on the motorcoach with me from our London office, said “I am thrilled that we decided to be in New Orleans at this time, not in a couple of years after the storm, but right now. They need us.”
In keeping with their theme, Greto added, “We wanted to be sure that if we did come to the city that we visit as many businesses as we could.” Offsite events were held at Arnaud’s Restaurant, Generations Hall, and famous eateries, including K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Bourbon House and more. The final night awards dinner was held at the hotel.
Greto reported, “Every attendee said that the true cornerstone of the five-day meeting was their community service project of rebuilding the baseball field at Wesley Barrow Stadium in Pontchartrain Park for the residents of this community affected by Katrina. It changed many of our attendees who were paired strategically to build stronger internal relationships with their peers. Personally, having been in this business for over 16 years, this was truly the most memorable, awesome experience I have ever been involved in. The McDonalds Division of The Coca-Cola Company, as part of their ‘Partnership in Action,’ also purchased the remaining uniforms and instruments needed to outfit the ‘St. Augs’ marching band, also known as The Marching 100, that were ruined in the floods.
“New Orleans is a wonderful destination,” said Greto. “The New Orleans hospitality and business district is definitely back, but the courage and tenaciousness of the city and its residents has made it a better place to hold meetings.” C&IT