Down on the BayouFebruary 1, 2014

Let the Good Times — and Great Meetings — Roll in Louisiana By
February 1, 2014

Down on the Bayou

Let the Good Times — and Great Meetings — Roll in Louisiana
Mardi Gras World

CBORD attendees network at Joe’s Joint at Grand Oaks Mansion, an indoor recreation of a Southern mansion located inside Mardi Gras World. Credit: Bordway Photography

There’s nothing quite like a great accolade to attract visitors to a city. National Geographic Traveler magazine has named New Orleans as one of the 21 “must-see” destinations in the world for 2014. The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau even helps along the process of planning meetings in their city by offering suggested themes like “Big Ideas in the Big Easy,” “Get Jazzed in New Orleans” and “Get Down to Business, then Just Get Down.”

New Orleans

Kelley DeMarchi, senior marketing and events manager for the technology solutions company The CBORD Group, staged her company’s 33rd annual user group conference in New Orleans in October. She has had the city on her radar for a while.

“We chose New Orleans because after Hurricane Katrina we’ve been hearing a lot about the refresh of the city, and our attendees like to have fun. This is an educational conference, and it’s all about the professional development for our customers. New Orleans was always in the back of our minds, and we thought ‘Hey, let’s give it a try.’ ”

High-Tech Hotel

CBORD chose the Hyatt Regency New Orleans for its conference, which attracted approximately 625 attendees, including customers, vendors and staff. DeMarchi explains why they decided on this hotel. “We chose the Hyatt due to the newer technologies that they have. They have RFID key cards, and they have a high-speed elevator system, so you use your key to get on the elevator. There are no buttons inside of the elevator.”

“I looked at Mardi Gras World as an offsite option and fell in love with it. It really kind of put New Orleans on the top of our list.”

—  Kelley DeMarchi, Senior Marketing and Events Manager, The CBORD Group Inc.

She explains how it works. “You flash your key and it will tell you what elevator bank (to go to) and right outside it will flash ‘this elevator is going to floors 21 and 24.’ Maybe two people get on and it goes directly to floor 21 and then it will go directly to floor 24. Those were two technology features (that appealed to us). We are a technology company, we write software, so we thought our group would be really interested in that.

“We also selected the Hyatt due to location,” she adds. “They are right next to the Superdome but they are a decent walking distance, about 10–15 minutes, from Bourbon Street. So for us, that was kind of important. We weren’t right around the corner. We knew people would find it on their own, but for our professional development (program), it was good to say we’re not right next door to the French Quarter.”

The Hyatt has 1,193 guest rooms, including 95 suites, as well as 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space. As DeMarchi mentioned, the hotel is adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It is also located near the New Orleans Arena and the city’s new Medical District.

“We do an opening session the first evening to kick off our meeting with a small welcome reception in the hotel right after,” DeMarchi explains. “For our opening session, we brought in a speaker this year, Curt Steinhorst.” She explains that Steinhorst represents Jason Dorsey, known as “The Gen Y Guy,” who is an expert on marketing to different generations. “He’s been on MSNBC and on the ‘Today Show,’ all different programs. Curt Steinhorst is part of his Center for Generational Kinetics. He talked about the generational divide. It went over very, very well. It engaged everyone,” she continues, “and our users range anywhere from mid-20s to, I would say, early to mid-60s, with the average being right around 40, both men and women. Of our attendees, 70 percent are from the college and university market and another 25 percent roughly come from health care.

“The speaker actually connected to everybody. It didn’t matter — age, background, anything. We had phenomenal reviews. People booked him for their own personal events after the fact. It really kicked off our program on a high note. That was our first night.”

Mardi Gras World

DeMarchi describes another highlight of their conference. “For one dinner of our program, we actually take the group offsite to explore the city and we took them to Mardi Gras World. It’s very unique to New Orleans.” Mardi Gras World gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the warehouses where the Mardi Gras floats are created. “We provided a little bit of a tour so they could see the artisans working, and we walked through one of the warehouses where all of the floats are stored.”

For their reception, CBORD used the Grand Oaks Mansion. “It’s actually a mansion inside of a warehouse (at Mardi Gras World),” DeMarchi explains. “We had a little reception where they could just mingle around with food and beverage and some entertainment, and it was really neat. I highly, highly recommend Mardi Gras World. They were great to work with.”

Grand Oaks Mansion is one of several event venues within Mardi Gras World. This replica of an antebellum mansion is surrounded by “starlit” skies, gardens and pathways. “You feel like you’re outdoors even though you’re inside,” DeMarchi explains.

DeMarchi’s site visit was coordinated by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, and they introduced her to Mardi Gras World. “That was one of the driving forces when I did the site visit. I looked at Mardi Gras World as an offsite option and fell in love with it. It really kind of put New Orleans on the top of our list. We look for something very unique to the city that you can’t get somewhere else.”

DeMarchi also was happy with the airlift into New Orleans. Her attendees come from all over the country as well as from five or six international destinations, including Canada, Australia, Singapore and the Middle East. “(The airlift) was very easy. I didn’t hear any complaints.”

Several airlines expanded their service into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in 2013. American Airlines added daily departures to Dallas/Fort Worth; Delta Airlines added daily service to New York’s JFK airport and Los Angeles; and Southwest Airlines initiated daily service to Austin, TX. After completing a $300 million modernization project, which included the expansion of Concourse D and the addition of six new gates, the airport recently opened a new consolidated rental car facility called Conrac, to meet the airport’s anticipated growth over the next 15 years. The new facility was designed to increase the airport’s rental car inventory from 800 cars to approximately 1,800.

Blending the Old With the New

Jeff O’Hara, DMCP, CMP, and president of the destination management company AlliedPRA New Orleans, says that the current trend is for corporate groups to hold meetings in the hotels and then do one night offsite.

He described a few offsite venues that have been popular with corporate groups. “One new venue that blends the old and the new is the Civic Theatre,” he explains. “It just reopened in the last year, and it’s actually the oldest theater in the South, so it’s got a lot of great architecture. They also equipped it with a lot of technology when they reopened it, so there’s a lot of great AV opportunities, a lot of great branding opportunities. That’s located right in the central business district.”

The Civic Theatre, which was built in 1906, has a modular flooring system that can be raised and lowered. The venue can host banquets for up to 200, a reception for up to 650, and it has a theater capacity for up to 700.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to bring the event back to NOLA. We feel it will help rejuvenate our event and bring new attendees.”

— Jamie Reesby, Show Director, Access Intelligence, Houston, TX

“A great new venue at the WWII Museum is the US Freedom Pavilion,” O’Hara adds. The venue was designed to pay tribute to the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war. “We’re doing a corporate event there in March for 1,300 people. We’re using the inside space and the outside space. Just the inside space would be great for something like 300–500 people. That one has been selling a lot. They’ve built in a lot of great AV, so there are a lot of great branding opportunities. It’s a huge room with big glass windows all the way up and planes hanging from the ceiling.” Those aircraft include a Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress,” a SBD Dauntless and the TBM Avenger.

“Club XLIV at the Superdome just expanded,” he continues. It’s a private lounge that pays tribute to the New Orleans Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV. “They went from a capacity of about 475 people to where they can hold about 1,000. It’s very sleek and high-tech. It’s part of the Superdome complex. We’ve done about five groups over there in the last six months. They renovated that about a year ago in time for Super Bowl.”

O’Hara describes another activity called a “second line parade” that’s popular with corporate groups. “It’s where we close down the street and send a high school marching band down to get the group from their hotel and lead them to wherever their venue is. Everybody loves that — I don’t care how old they are or how well-traveled they are. We’ve done it for anything from 40 people to 1,000. It’s more cost-effective than you would think.”

Convention Center News

In the Metropoll XIV, Volume II report by RRC Associates, a Smith Travel Research company, meeting planners ranked the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center No. 1 out of 40 destinations in the category of “new or expanded convention centers.” The convention center contains more than 1 million sf of contiguous exhibit space, 140 meeting rooms and the 4,000-seat New Orleans Theatre. The center introduced The Great Hall, a 60,000-sf ballroom, in January last year.

The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was the site of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 6th Annual Growth Conference in January. The event was held in the center’s La Nouvelle Ballroom and attracted 600 attendees.

“We select cities that have an inherently strong local entrepreneurial community and ones that will thrive from a free event such as this,” explains Lisa Murray, vice president of marketing for Entrepreneur. “The other part of our decision can be attributed to the vibrant city of New Orleans itself. The city’s vibe embodies creativity and innovation, two factors entrepreneurs are known for and we believe factored to some degree in their decision to attend. The final factor is accessibility. A certain percentage of our attendees follow us all over the country, so we pick a destination that is conducive for travel but also affords the potential for new business opportunities.”

Since UPS sponsored the event, the fact that the convention center has a UPS Store onsite made the facility a good choice. “We were able to showcase the sponsor in a very unique way,” Murray notes. “In addition, the convention center was able to accommodate all of our requests and ensured our event was front and center for their local community.”

Murray described some of the conference’s highlights. “Our keynote presentation with artist Erik Wahl captivated attendees with his visual storytelling while reinforcing the true meaning of risk-taking. (Secondly), through their stories, Entrepreneur Magazine’s ‘Entrepreneur of 2013’ award winners honored at our luncheon offered inspiration to attendees. (And thirdly), hundreds of attendees lined up to pitch Entrepreneur’s editors for a chance to have their businesses featured.”

The New Orleans Convention Center also will be the site of the Electric Power Conference & Expo in April. The event is expected to attract approximately 4,000 attendees and 260 exhibitors. Participants have a choice of eight hotels at varying price points, ranging from the Hampton Inn & Suites Convention Center New Orleans to the W New Orleans. The event’s largest room blocks are at the 1,622-room Hilton New Orleans Riverside and the 320-room Downtown New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center.

“We were looking to bring the 15-year old event to a new location,” explains Show Director Jamie Reesby of Access Intelligence. “We had previously rotated between Chicago (Rosemont) and Baltimore. Electric Power was to go to New Orleans back in 2006 and had to relocate due to the hurricane. We are excited to have the opportunity to bring the event back to NOLA. We feel it will help rejuvenate our event and bring new attendees, as well as from the Gulf Coast. The CVB has created a microsite and offered to help promote the event to their database, as well.”

The convention center, which is the sixth-largest convention center in the U.S., recently upgraded its wireless networks to provide service to all public spaces, meeting rooms, the New Orleans Theatre, The Great Hall and a prefunction area. The center’s Xirrus Rapid Deployment Kits now make it possible for a wireless network to be created in a matter of minutes. As a result of the new technology, thousands of users can be served simultaneously.

The New Orleans Convention Center Club XLIV also has made a strong commitment to going green through a multi-faceted initiative that focuses on waste reduction, water conservation, energy conservation and clean air practices.

Noteworthy in New Orleans

In other New Orleans news, the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel recently completed a $50 million revitalization project that included a floor-to-ceiling redo of the hotel’s 1,100 guest rooms and suites, its Sheraton Club lounge, lobby and more than 100,000 sf of meeting space.

The Omni Royal Orleans, located in the city’s French Quarter, has invested $15 million to revitalize and modernize its 345 guest rooms and public spaces. It also added 24 wrought iron balconies to preserve the historic nature of the property. The hotel offers 14,000 sf of event space that includes 17 meeting rooms.

The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, recently opened its new Fountain Lounge as a nod to its historic past. When the lounge originally opened in 1938, it was a place where the A-listers of the day gathered in an atmosphere as “casual and carefree as a night in Paris.” The hotel offers 504 rooms, including 125 suites and Pure allergy-friendly rooms. It also provides a choice of 23 meeting rooms, including the Huey P. Long Executive Boardroom.

Baton Rouge

Louisiana’s capital city is located 80 miles northwest of New Orleans and can be reached by flights operated by American, Delta, United and US Airways through Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. One of the city’s largest venues is the Baton Rouge River Center, located on the banks of the Mississippi. It contains a 70,000-sf exhibition hall that can be combined with the venue’s arena to create more than 100,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space.

Unique venues that confer prestige and elegance to any corporate event are available at the Governor’s Mansion, and at the Old State Capitol in the rotunda and the House and Senate chambers. And plantation houses, such as Magnolia Mound Plantation, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, and Nottoway Plantation infuse events with the elegance of the old South.

Visit Baton Rouge offers meeting planners a wealth of resources, including assistance with RFPs, welcome bags and literature for attendees, onsite registration assistance and an image and video gallery. The bureau also will line up a local dignitary to welcome the group and help arrange for a local expert to deliver the keynote address.


Billed as Louisiana’s “Other Side,” Shreveport-Bossier is accessible via the Shreveport Regional Airport, which is served by American, United, Allegiant and Delta Airlines. The area offers more than 10,000 hotel rooms as well as the 350,000-sf Shreveport Convention Center and the 24,000-sf Bossier Civic Center. The cities also provide a choice of unique venues for offsite events, including the Space Planetarium and Imax Theater at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center.

The Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau is currently offering a “Golden Ticket” program, which offers $1,000 to qualifying groups to help offset the cost of meeting room rental, food or transportation. Details are available at


Located 135 miles west of New Orleans, Lafayette has a choice of event venues, including the 40,000-sf Cajundome arena, home of the Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team. The Cajundome Convention Center, located adjacent to the arena, contains nearly 100,000 sf of event space on two levels well as a 5,000-sf mall area. The Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission offers an app called the “Lafayette Travel Mobile Concierge” that can help meeting attendees visiting the area find “all things Cajun,” including restaurants, shopping and local attractions.

Pick Your Passion

The slogan of the Louisiana Office of Tourism is “Pick Your Passion,” referring to the wide range of attractions and amenities the state’s destinations have to offer. Plan a meeting here and you just might experience what DeMarchi did: Many of her attendees extended their stays, both pre- and post-conference. She explains, “I did have to increase my room block about 100 rooms over what I anticipated.” C&IT

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