When you think of New Orleans and greater Louisiana, what comes to mind? Incredible food? A vibrant nightlife? Memorable music? History aplenty? From the eclectic experiences in New Orleans to the Southern charm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is filled with a wealth of meeting and event locales that are sure to please.
New Orleans is known for executing logistically complex events with an elevated level of success. Hundreds of hotels, restaurants, venues and attractions are nestled within a 2-mile downtown area, making it convenient and easy for attendees to explore on foot.
“Add cultural richness, unmatched cuisine, world-class live entertainment and experienced and committed hospitality community, and what you have is a premiere destination ‘Built to Host’ meetings and events,” says Stephanie Turner, senior vice president, convention sales & strategies with New Orleans & Company.
Melva LaJoy Legrand, CMP, DES, CEO & founder of LaJoy Plans, started planning events in New Orleans in 2010 and, from her experience, New Orleans provides an excellent meeting oasis where there is an extremely vibrant music, arts, museum and architecture culture paired with a city that has quality venues of all sizes and price points. “I have never had anyone say they had a bad meal [of various price points] in New Orleans,” Legrand says. “The ‘Big Easy’ makes meetings experiential and truly enjoyable. I know many people who want to return every year if they could.”
Legrand has planned company all-staff retreats at the iconic The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel; smaller workshops at the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Warehouse District Hotel, and she is currently planning a large conference at the New Orleans Marriott. “When my clients have selected New Orleans, it has been for a few reasons,” Legrand says. First, they recognize that while attendees value good content, having their event in a desirable destination matters, and New Orleans is often on the list; second, for her East Coast clients, climate is a draw for people in Boston and New York trying to get out of the cold; third — and this varies by property and time of the year — but by and large, pricing overall as compared to some other destinations tends to be more affordable than other locations.
“It goes without saying — good food can keep meeting attendees happy,” Legrand says. “Finally, I have to say that in every meeting planner experience I’ve had, including the one I am having right now at the New Orleans Marriott, the hospitality pros are extremely collaborative and communicative. The Southern hospitality in New Orleans is palpable.”
Melissa Park, global event producer at Melissa Park Events, has also planned a wealth of events in New Orleans. Park says New Orleans is more than a city, it’s a destination with a vibe all its own. In addition to offering a host of meeting facilities large and small, the city is known for its diverse culture, arts and entertainment, incredible cuisine, live music and nightlife — making it a perfect choice for programs that include off-sites and partner activities.
“As we venture back into the world of in-person events, with tighter budgets than ever before, I am always on the lookout to get the biggest bang for my client’s buck,” Park says. “Two factors I consider are accessibility and being able to affordably lean into a theme. New Orleans ticks both boxes and then some with its power punch of personality plus.”
Event pro and New Orleans native, D. Channing Muller, principal at DCM Communications, says New Orleans is so much more than a city. It’s a melting pot of various different cultures all coming together to be their own unique New Orleans culture.
“The easy draws for why you’d want to host an event there are the food, music and revelry, hands down. The planner who goes beyond that though, and taps into the history and unique New Orleans experience, is the one who will truly set their event apart for attendees,” Muller says.
Louisiana history and architecture is fascinating, as Muller explains. Whether you are in the French Quarter, downtown or the Garden District, you are going to be immersed in what brought the city to being the destination it is today.
“Attendees want to escape their lives a bit, and New Orleans is more than happy to welcome them. We specialize in revelry and hosting,” Muller says. “We love to showcase our city to the world and have them join the party as if they were locals, and we know tourists love that. After all, you won’t have a true New Orleans experience — be it the food, hospitality, history, theme or parties — anywhere but there.”
While the nightlife and cuisine in New Orleans is as diverse as the visitors themselves, so too, are the hotel and venue offerings in the city. Virgin Hotels New Orleans offers seven different meeting and event spaces including a ballroom, The Manor, at 1,860 sf.
Virgin Hotels New Orleans’ Dreamboat space is on the 13th floor, and is an indoor event space perfect for parties, receptions, meetings and intimate weddings. Adjacent to The Pool Club, Dreamboat is an intimate indoor air-conditioned space that evokes a sense of the outdoors with lush greenery, lanterns and locally designed latticework.
And the hotel’s Sandbox is a traditional meeting space that is equally as versatile. The 800-sf space is great for networking, meeting with colleagues or socializing, and features floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of Baronne Street and allows for plenty of natural lighting.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside offers more than 130,000 sf of event space, and can accommodate a multitude of specialized events, including meetings and conferences of all sizes, board retreats, team-building events, network gatherings and large dinners.
For a classically historic New Orleans venue experience, The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, is ideal for meetings and events. Having recently completed a $40 million renovation of guest rooms, banquet spaces and public spaces, The Roosevelt offers more than 60,000 sf of meeting space, including the historic Blue Room, which is one of the original supper theaters from the 1930s and 1940s.
The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) is an award-winning convention center and staff. As Michael J, Sawaya, president of the NOENMCC, says, the convention center boasts more than 1 million sf of contiguous prime exhibit space, a 65,000-sf ballroom, 36,000-sf ballroom, a 4,000-seat theater, 140 meeting rooms and several unique meeting options.
“We also offer a park with several activation spaces the length of the convention center,” Sawaya says. “Recently designated Gold LEED Certified, the renovations to all meeting rooms and public spaces at the convention center will soon be underway.”
And while New Orleans offers exceptional hotel offerings, the area is also celebrating recent hotel projects including The Four Seasons Hotel + Residences, and an expansion at the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot. Also, a complete remodel, expansion and rebranding of Caesars Entertainment’s Harrah’s New Orleans hotel is underway — bringing the room inventory to nearly 26,000 in a 2-mile area downtown.
Cultural attractions such as Vue Orleans Observatory — on top of the Four Seasons Hotel — and a $400 million expansion of the National WWII Museum also provide more offerings to attendees. Two blocks from the NOENMCC on the Mississippi River, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is undergoing a $34 million renovation to the entrance and lobby, along with the addition of 17,000 sf of exhibit space; the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium.
“There are many new developments not to be missed in New Orleans, however, the new Expressions of America Exhibit at the National World War II Museum uniquely combines the latest outdoor projection technology with wartime letters and oral histories from the museum’s collection to allow audiences to experience the stories of the WWII generation like never before,” Turner says.
Tucked into Louisiana’s extreme northwest, Shreveport-Bossier is also rich in its own food, music, history, unique architecture and culture. According to Katharyn DeVille, vice president of marketing and communications at the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau (SBCTB), the area is rich with assets to which meeting, sports and event planners and individual visitors are drawn.
“From the 350,000-sf Shreveport Convention Center, to more than 10,000 hotel rooms supporting citywide conferences, tournaments or smaller needs, we have what meeting planners are looking for and provide a great value to them,” DeVille says.
Conveniently connected to the Shreveport Convention Center is the Hilton Shreveport hotel, which is complete with more than 244,000 sf of event space, including 22 distinct meeting rooms.
“Shreveport-Bossier is growing and changing as quickly as the mighty Red River that flows between our two cities,” says David Bradley, vice president of business development for the SBCTB.
Plans are underway for a new riverfront casino resort; a new multiuse sports complex in downtown Shreveport and renovations for a state-of-the-art baseball complex in Bossier City. Additionally, many of the area’s local hotels are updating their accommodations this year. Shreveport-Bossier also is a perfect place for foodies to tour, with new venues opening frequently.
No two visits to Shreveport-Bossier are the same, as the area offers more than 55 events and festivals each year. The Paddy in the Plaza commemorating St. Patrick’s Day is returning to downtown following a hiatus. Other popular festivals include the area’s own version of Mardi Gras, the Mudbug Madness Festival, the Red River Balloon Rally, the Let the Good Times Roll Festival, the Red River Revel Arts Festival and Prize Fest.
DeVille points out that the SBCTB and Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission are free resources to help meeting and event planners host a successful event. “Whether it’s all-in, sleeves-up and hands-on, or an advisory capacity, we can help secure event space, plan meals, get room blocks and so much more,” DeVille says. “We want you to be the hero of a successful event in Shreveport-Bossier, and we want your guests to love the accommodations, the food, the attractions and more.”
Alysia Guin, sales and marketing manager at the Raising Cane’s River Center, says the biggest draw for meeting planners and attendees to Baton Rouge — an hour-and-a half drive northwest of New Orleans — is the walkability of the city’s downtown. “The convenience of several hotels options, restaurants and local attractions is a draw,” Guin says. “The advantage of being located in downtown Baton Rouge is that our facility is located off the interstate and only 10 minutes from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.”
In addition, the Raising Cane’s River Center’s 16 meeting rooms offer meeting planners plenty of flexibility. “Planners love the open concept of the Galleria that marries our meeting rooms, along with the ballroom and exhibition hall,” Guin says.
The Galleria boasts more than 27,000 sf of space, perfect for trade shows and more. Additionally, the Riverview Room, which is 3,100 sf, overlooks the banks of the Mississippi River, providing attendees the opportunity to view downtown Baton Rouge.
In addition to the convention center, the Raising Cane’s River Center campus also offers an 8,900-seat arena and a 2,000-seat theater. “This is unique in that convention-goers could attend concerts or other ticketed events that may be occurring during their stay in Baton Rouge,” Guin says. “Also, planners have the option to utilize these spaces to enhance their attendees’ experience.” C&IT