LouisianaJanuary 23, 2023

Distinct Tastes Offered in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport-Bossier By
January 23, 2023


Distinct Tastes Offered in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport-Bossier
The sun sets behind the famous St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. New Orleans is world renowned for its unique culture of architecture, food and music. Photo by Rebecca Todd

The sun sets behind the famous St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. New Orleans is world renowned for its unique culture of architecture, food and music. Photo by Rebecca Todd

There are plenty of reasons Louisiana ranks high on the list of most desirable destinations for travelers: authentic Southern hospitality, soulful Cajun and Creole cuisine, acclaimed music — and not to be forgotten — the “Pelican State’s” deserved acclaim for over-the-top celebrations such as Mardi Gras. Louisiana’s joie de vivre extends deep and wide, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, to Shreveport-Bossier and places in between.

Where better to welcome meeting attendees back to live gatherings? Industry professionals are rolling out the welcome mat to meeting planners who are looking for that unmistakable meetings magic in unique venues at affordable costs across the state.

New Orleans

Lest there be any question about New Orleans’ status as a world-class destination, the “Big Easy” achieved notable distinction as “Most Desirable City (Rest of the World)” by UK-based Wanderlust in November based on approximately 50,000 reader votes. Wanderlust states: “Louisiana’s largest city has a distinctive vibrancy, which is why it has deservedly won this year’s Wanderlust award for Most Desirable City (Rest of World). Music is its beating heart, with jazz, blues, reggae and rock filling the streets of the Marigny neighborhood.”

Music, Mardi Gras and scrumptious dining menus featuring gumbo, jambalaya and deep-fried chicken may be the impetus for many planners heading to New Orleans. Stephanie Turner, senior vice president of convention sales & strategies for New Orleans & Company, reminds visitors: “While New Orleans is famous for Cajun, Creole and seafood cuisine, we also deliver on seriously authentic Vietnamese, Italian, Caribbean and fusion.” Beyond the amazing food of New Orleans, the city beckons business professionals for additional reasons. “The cultural richness draws meeting-goers to New Orleans,” Turner says. “New Orleans is ‘Built to Host’ and has become one of only five cities in the U.S. accredited as a Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR Destination. Our unmatched cuisine, world-class live entertainment and historic architecture is naturally infused into every meeting or event we host. This is not something we have to create; it happens naturally because New Orleans is authentic.”

Shelby Paul, former events officer for the Speciality Coffee Association, says the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) was the perfect site for the organization’s Annual Conference & Exhibition, which attracted 4,000 attendees in late 2021. “New Orleans has excellent airlift,” says Paul, “and its central location appeals to both domestic and international attendees.”

In fact, J.D. Power’s 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study ranked the Louis Armstrong International Airport No. 1 among large airports in North America for customer satisfaction following the facility’s billion-dollar, state-of-the-art renovations in 2019. Conveniently located a 25-minute drive from downtown New Orleans, the airport features a number of enhancements, such as in-line baggage screening, a consolidated security checkpoint to three concourses and 35 gates, a 2,200-car parking garage, additional concessions and live entertainment for waiting passengers.

This is the entrance to Hall A at tne New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on January 30, 2013. Copyright Kathy Anderson Photography

This is the entrance to Hall A at tne New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on January 30, 2013. Copyright Kathy Anderson Photography

The award-winning, 3.1 million-sf NOENMCC offers 1.1 million sf of prime exhibit space and has also “embarked on a $557 million improvement plan, including renovations to 140 meeting rooms and a makeover of the exterior experience,” Turner says. The center’s 4,000-seat New Orleans Theater can be separated into three separate sections, and the LEED-Certified facility offers a range of planner services, such as on-site ambassadors, a catering menu featuring snacks and bakery items, bento and break boxes, boxed lunches, as well as speciality carts and beverages.

Paul notes that “the thriving coffee scene and busy port complemented by a diverse restaurant scene” was of particular interest to the Speciality Coffee Association attendees. While the timing of the group event proved challenging — “We had the unfortunate experience of conducting an event in the waning months of COVID-19 and within about three to four weeks of a significant hurricane hitting the region.” Paul credits representatives of New Orleans & Company, along with executives at the NOENMCC who worked diligently to ensure a safe and comfortable event. “I believe both organizations truly care about the groups that they welcome to their city and do all that they can to ensure success,” Paul says.

This sentiment is echoed by Michelle Malloy, CMP, senior director of meetings for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, who applauds the CVB’s dedication of “driving and walking with me two days around the city and who really helped me fine-tune the needs of our attendees.” The CVB staff also prepared a slide show showcasing little-known facts about New Orleans that Malloy recommends “every planner take advantage of for attendees” as an introduction to the region.

Malloy’s comments come as no surprise to Turner, who encourages planners to “Work with New Orleans & Company to plan your meeting in New Orleans.” She says, “Our team works as an extension of the planning team. We understand that people are what makes New Orleans a culturally rich destination, and the New Orleans & Company’s highly experienced convention sales team works in tandem with culture bearers, the hospitality community and the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to provide complex logistics management and on-the-ground expertise to meeting and event strategists.”

In selecting the New Orleans Marriott for the association’s meeting late last year, Malloy found that “the staff was exceptional, experienced, accommodating and eager to make us look good.” The hotel boasts 83,965 sf of versatile and functional event space for up to 3,000 guests that includes 40 event rooms and the 27,000-sf Grand Ballroom. One special highlight for Malloy’s group was the hotel’s 41st-floor meeting rooms, offering unparalleled views of the French Quarter and Mississippi River. Overall, Malloy says, “Everyone was so happy and excited to be together again, and together with the energy of New Orleans, it created a synergy, a magnificence, a vibrancy that was so delightful and relaxing.”

Through a connection initiated by one of the organization’s members who has ties with the local community, the group kicked off the event with the Brother Martin High School’s marching band and Color Guard, which immediately brought attendees to their feet, clapping and videotaping the dynamic scene.

When it came to evening receptions and dinners, Malloy’s board of directors opted for Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, where guests described the French-Creole cuisine as “impeccable.” Attendees were also excited by such venues as the House of Blues and the Palace Café.

For Becky Rowbotham, Paramount Events CEO, a health care association client chose Hilton New Orleans Riverside based on the property’s proximity to the French Quarter. They also chose the hotel for the bounty of activities for attendees to do after hours, and it was where they wanted to contract for their fundraiser venue. While Rowbotham has used this property previously with other clients, this was the first time for this particular client. “The selling point was the large amount of meeting space along with the location,” she says.

The hotel offers more than 130,000 sf of space, which includes its 27,000-sf Grand Ballroom accommodating up to 3,000 attendees, while more than 1,600 guest rooms afford city or riverfront views. “Attendees had a great experience and loved the food,” Rowbotham says, while mentioning the property’s Drago’s Seafood, whose Original Charbroiled Oysters and Mama Ruth’s Gumbo were a huge hit. Also on the menu: Gator Tacos and Fried Gator Bites, plus Drago’s Bayou Roll, a combination of crawfish, pork, rice, carrots and fresh kale wrapped in tortillas and fried; and Boudin Balls, a fried Cajun bite made with spicy pork and rice sausage.

Turner notes additional new developments as New Orleans commits to its tradition as a premier meetings destination; for example, The Four Seasons Hotel + Residences, The Virgin Hotels New Orleans and The Kimpton Fontenot Hotel all recently opened, adding to the nearly 26,000 downtown hotel rooms. Plus, Caesars Entertainment is investing $325 million to renovate and rebrand Harrah’s New Orleans with additional plans for a 340-room hotel tower by 2024. And the legendary Superdome has been renamed the Caesars Superdome.

“In total, almost $1 billion dollars in renovations have been recently completed and are anticipated to begin in our hotel community,” Turner says. Additional renovations include a $400 million expansion at the National World War II Museum and a $34 million renovation at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Geraldine Bordelon, CMP, Senior Vice President of Destination Sales for Visit Baton Rouge, second from left, says Baton Rouge’s “affordability draws meeting-goers to our destination.” Courtesy Geraldine Bordelon

Geraldine Bordelon, CMP, Senior Vice President of Destination Sales for Visit Baton Rouge, second from left, says Baton Rouge’s “affordability draws meeting-goers to our destination.” Courtesy Geraldine Bordelon

Baton Rouge

About an hour’s drive northwest of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital city, awaits. “Affordability draws meeting-goers to our destination,” says Geraldine Bordelon, CMP, senior vice president of destination sales for Visit Baton Rouge. “And sometimes clients want alternate destinations from the usual first-tier city, [to have] the ability to experience unique and authentic experiences while meeting in a second-tier city.”

From the iconic luxury of WATERMARK Baton Rouge, Autograph Collection downtown to Hotel Indigo Baton Rouge Downtown on the downtown waterfront, to the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center to The Cook Hotel and Conference Center at LSU, Baton Rouge does not disappoint. New this year, the 91-room Origin Hotel near the state capitol building soon will open and will feature three top-floor suites with framing views of the oak tree canopies below.

Also available for events, the Raising Cane’s River Center’s recent expansion showcases more than 200,000 sf of new and renovated space with state-of-the-art facilities, including the new 70,000-sf Exhibition Hall alongside the existing Arena and River Center Performing Arts Theatre.

For private events with the touch of a possible ghostly sighting, the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center Tunnel is an option for cocktail hour or board dinner. Popular family-friendly gatherings designed to bring people together are happening at Red Stick Social inside the newly renovated Electric Depot. There, attendees are offered all-in-one entertainment value, such as live music, small-plate menus served in indoor-outdoor seating, a pet-friendly beer garden and rooftop patio, state-of-the-art bowling and Social House for catching up with friends and colleagues in a laid-back atmosphere.

For event organizers considering Baton Rouge for their next meeting or conference, Bordelon encourages planners to work together with Visit Baton Rouge for all planning needs. The CVB is “a one-stop shop resource ready to help you from the beginning of selecting a hotel to the end of the conference,” she says. “The pandemic created delays in booking cycles due to the uncertainty, but as things are changing, we encourage meeting planners to incorporate the local flair into their agendas. Hopefully, planners can get back into longer-term bookings with more flexibility with dates. Demand has been strong; booking ahead will help, and being flexible on day patterns will give them a few more choices.”


“Southern hospitality and service, plus a great place to do business” defines Shreveport-Bossier’s attraction for meeting attendees, says David Bradley, vice president of business development for Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, located in the state’s extreme northwest. Bradley also cites the local culture, the 350,000-sf Shreveport Convention Center (SCC), 10,000+ hotel rooms and much more as enticing draws of the region. Bradley notes the place to visit for live entertainment is the East Bank District, which continues to expand and is home to local favorite Flying Heart Brewing & Pub; the Bayou Axe Throwing Co. and East Bank Plaza.

Thanks to community organizers and the generous donation of Dr. George Bakowski, who practiced optometry in Shreveport for 45 years, the new lighting along the Texas Street Bridge was revealed with great fanfare early last year. The bridge — which links Shreveport and Bossier City — is now acclaimed as the Bakowski Bridge of Lights. The colorful, twinkling LED lights have become a symbol of civic pride between the two communities.

Nearly 80 Black-owned restaurants, food trucks, renowned Louisiana foods and unique culinary experiences combine in Shreveport-Bossier, not to mention a dynamic bar and nightlife scene. Versatile meeting venues include the aforementioned SCC, 21 additional unique off-site meeting venues such as Bally’s Shreveport Casino & Hotel, Louisiana Downs Casino & Racetrack and the Surge Entertainment Center in Bossier City. Surge is the place to go for food, fun, scores of family-friendly activities and group events. Guests enjoy state-of-the-art bowling, immersive sports simulators, suspended rope courses and high-tech arcades, which are among the entertainment options. A full-service restaurant showcasing favorite Louisiana food fare and large full-service bars with 22-sf, HD screens complete with other big-screen TVs for viewing sports events are also featured amenities.

Meeting attendees can follow in the footsteps of Elvis Presley at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, where the star launched his claim to fame. The 14,000-seat Brookshire Grocery Arena offers another concert venue, while the Bossier Civic Center, with a 24,000-sf convention and exhibit hall, 7,500-sf banquet hall and five meeting rooms is ideally suited for smaller groups ad luncheons.

The Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau offers an array of services to meeting planners coordinating events. Bradley assures planners, “You will be working with a strong citywide team. We call it the TRIAD,” he says. “It’s a combined effort from different organizations working together to enhance the meeting experience. We work closely with the Shreveport Convention Center team and area hotels and resorts to attract regional meetings, sports events and tourist attractions.” He continues: “The Press Play campaign was developed to help planners see value and help offset cost locally.”

In sum, Bradley thinks planners will find Shreveport-Bossier a meetings destination that has it all: “Great people, great accommodations, and great location in the center of the region.” | AC&F |

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