New Orleans is a vibrant city with lively jazz music, authentic Cajun food and a vibrant nightlife.
This atmosphere, coupled with the increase in bleisure travel, where conference and meeting-goers add on vacation days to their work travel plans, means event planners are also looking at cities like NOLA for their corporate events.
“Meeting planners should consider New Orleans for a corporate meeting/event because the city offers a unique and vibrant atmosphere that is sure to leave a lasting impression on attendees,” Diane Lyons, CMP, president of Accent New Orleans Inc., said. “With its rich history, diverse culture and world-renowned cuisine, New Orleans provides a one-of-a-kind experience that cannot be found anywhere else. Additionally, the city boasts a variety of meeting venues and 29,000 hotel rooms within a very walkable city. The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is an award-winning LEED-certified building with over 1.1 million sf of continuous space under one roof.”
The new airport, she added, has won many accolades, as it is located less than 20 minutes from the center of the city.
Indeed, New Orleans is “Built to Host” with a strong hospitality industry that is experienced in hosting small and large-scale events and ensuring that attendees have a memorable and enjoyable experience.
“Visitors can explore the city’s rich French and Spanish colonial past through its architecture, food and music,” Lyons said. “New Orleans is also home to numerous festivals throughout the year, including Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and the French Quarter Festival. In addition, the city offers a vibrant nightlife with numerous bars, restaurants and music venues. For those who enjoy the outdoors, the nearby swamps and bayous provide opportunities for fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. Overall, New Orleans has something to offer for everyone.”
Recently Lyons worked with a corporate client whose event theme was “Together, We Are Unstoppable.” The Accent New Orleans team was able to expand the theme to include the cultural vibe of New Orleans. From a companywide talent show to an authentic New Orleans Brass Band and Grand Marshal leading attendees through the streets with a police escort complete with sirens, this corporate event was memorable for all involved.
“The parade brought us to The Fillmore, an off-site venue,” Lyons said. “We kicked off the evening there with a jazz ensemble, but once again we surprised and delighted attendees with way more than swinging beats,” Lyons said. “Attendees were spoiled, allowing them to have a choice with the entertainment offered, between a karaoke lounge, a masterful DJ bopping away in the bar, a roaming magician, an interactive photo booth and even tarot card readers secreted away in quieter corners for private readings.”
Without a doubt, these entertainment elements were key to making this meeting a tremendous success. As Lyons explained, they kept attendees rivoted and the energy high – two primary goals of their client.
“Using cultural elements of the city to engage their employees and creating an event that engaged the team made for a once in a lifetime experience,” Lyons said. “Only in New Orleans can you take over the streets and block traffic with your very own police escort.”
Amber Soletti-Cabrera, founder of Intellectual Blonde Events, has also planned various events in New Orleans.
“A couple of fun events stand out in particular,” Soletti-Cabrera said. “We’ve planned and hosted some corporate events at Jamnola, which is perfect for clients looking to showcase New Orleans culture, art and give attendees the opportunity to take amazing and fun photos. They have larger-than-life crawfish, a ‘bling’ bayou with a golden alligator, babydoll umbrellas, interactive wall mural art where you can pose in a second line parade with a giant po-boy and so much more.”
The majority of attendees at this event had never been to New Orleans before so this was a perfect space to give them all a dose of all of the amazing gems the city has to offer.
“It was definitely a hit,” Soletti-Cabrera said. “Another super fun event we helped coordinate was Jamfest at Press Street Station. For this particular event, we booked several NOLA food, drink and art vendors to give attendees a literal taste of NOLA festival food. It included snow balls, kingcakes, crawfish bread, pasta, po-boys, bread pudding, cajun tacos and more. With live music performances and entertainment, this delivered an authentic food and music experience that only NOLA can offer.”
Angele duPassage, CMP, partner and owner of Cypress Planning Group, plans corporate events in cities all over the world, but New Orleans is often on the top of their clients’ lists when considering a host city.
“New Orleans is that city that you’ve never been to but always wanted to go, or you’ve been to, but you want to go back,” duPassage said. It’s a first-tier meetings destination that has not only multiple hotel products from luxury to limited service to hosting successful meetings, but is also a walkable city that attracts attendees because of its food, culture, music, museums and the hospitable nature of its community.”
The city is an easy destination to fly into and to do business in. Du Passage finds that when meetings are hosted in New Orleans, attendees arrive early and stay later to enjoy the destination, thus impacting overall registration, guest room pickup and attendee enjoyment.
“It’s an unbeatable city for any meeting or event,” she said.
As a full-service meeting planning company, duPassage sourced and planned a variety of meetings at the Virgin Hotel in New Orleans. The hotel is in a location that New Orleans calls the South Market District, which is in a revitalized up-and-coming area, so it is centered around a lot of restaurants and bars as well as near the streetcar line and the French Quarter. The Virgin Hotel has over 5,000 sf of flexible meeting and event space, the majority of which offers sweeping views of the city.
In addition to the Virgin Hotel, many new, renovated and soon-to-be completed New Orleans’ venues are sure to please today’s corporate planners. For instance, Nobu Hotel New Orleans is scheduled to open next year within the newly created Caesars New Orleans. Caesars Entertainment is investing $325 million in renovating and rebranding Harrah’s New Orleans. The new Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans features 29,000 sf of meeting space, a cultural museum, and a roof-top pool and bar area. Another new addition to New Orleans’ portfolio of meeting and event spaces is the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, which is celebrated for its close proximity to the convention center and Caesars Superdome.
New Orleans also was one of Cvent’s Top 20 Destinations in this year’s ranking, which can be credited to the city making new investments to make it an attractive meeting and events destination, including gradually freshening up and expanding its hospitality offerings.
“Hotels are a major area being targeted for upgrades,” Rachel Andrews, senior director, Global Meetings & Events Cvent, said, adding, “The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is the sixth largest convention facility in the nation and consistently ranks in the country’s top 10 of facilities that hold the most conventions and tradeshows annually.”
When planning an event in New Orleans, it is important for meeting planners to remember that the city is a very popular destination with numerous festivals and events which can impact availability, as well as cost for accommodations and transportation.
Soletti-Cabrera said that considerations that need to be made should include what time of year the event is taking place. If it’s in the hot summer months, planners definitely need to book a venue with air-conditioning that is working well.
You also need to consider how large the group is, whether you want to have a catered event and the location of where your attendees are staying, versus the venue and budget.
“So many factors come into play when planning an event, but the good news is, New Orleans offers a wide range of venues for events and activities that can be booked for an unforgettable, authentic and cultural NOLA experience,” Soletti-Cabrera said. “Large, intimate, in-between, modern or historic, the Crescent City has so much to offer!”
Also remember that inclement weather, especially during the hotter months and hurricane season, can definitely provide challenges, so make sure to plan accordingly.
“Make sure you’re hosting your event at a place that has a backup generator in case power goes out,” Soletti-Cabrera said. “Weather scenarios can be a nightmare for event planners, so make sure to do your research and take proper precautions to make sure your event is a hit come rain or shine.”
DuPassage always encourages their team of planners to experience New Orleans at the same general time of year the meeting will be hosted. For New Orleans, this is particularly important as the energy is indicative of the season. The feel, the temperature, the festivals, special events and the overall vibe changes in New Orleans depending on the season.
“I always say, ‘seeing is believing,’” duPassage said. “You can watch videos and look at photo after photo of a destination, but to fully understand a city, especially one like New Orleans, you need to come and experience it for yourself. Eat the food, enjoy the music, speak to the hospitality community, stay in the hotels you are considering and walk the meeting space.”
With any major city, there can be any number of things going on at any given time and New Orleans is no different. As duPassage explained, New Orleans is known for hosting a bevy of festivals year-round, but beyond this, because it is a host city, many citywide conferences and conventions can often be found in New Orleans, in addition to special events, including special sporting events, concerts and more.
“Anything from Mardi Gras, to the Jazz and Heritage Festival, to the Essence Festival, as well as countless sporting events, can put pressure on the city, which may impact factors such as hotel occupancy, room rate, restaurant availability, flights and more,” duPassage said. “We encourage our clients to be flexible with their dates, since that might be the difference of having availability or not in New Orleans.”
DuPassage also recommended New Orleans & Company as a great resource for corporate planners exploring the idea of hosting a meeting or incentive event in New Orleans.
“Their team is geared toward helping planners understand more about the city of New Orleans and what is available to successfully host your event,” duPassage said. “They provide resources from meeting planning guides to helping connect planners to the best of the best in the city. They are devoted to helping you better market your meeting, which can include stock photos, videos, marketing tools and so much more. Many of our clients continue to keep coming back to New Orleans, and there’s a reason for it. It’s not just us, but it’s the attraction of the city.”
When planning events in New Orleans, Cvent suggests planners highlight for attendees all the great attractions that make it easy to hop from business and networking meetings to fun activities, like trying iconic NOLA dishes or doing some shopping.
“In today’s meetings and events landscape, planners and marketers are experiencing difficulties driving on-site attendance due to rising costs, supply chain issues and other factors,” Andrews said. “To entice attendees, the reputation of a host city is also important to consider, and New Orleans makes it easy with its record of treating visitors to world-class food, shopping and entertainment.”
Andrews said there are many ways to infuse some of New Orleans’s culture into a meeting or event, including: