From historic rooms and courtyards, to breathtaking architecture with a view, New Orleans offers some of the best meetings and events experiences in the country.
“We treat thousands of attendees with the same attention and hospitality given to a single, lifelong friend,” says Stephanie Turner, senior vice president of convention sales & strategies for New Orleans & Company. “We have access to the best locations to inspire meaningful interactions that continue long after you’ve left town. And we can do all of it within walking distance of world-class hotels.”
The team at New Orleans & Company and its hospitality partners are experts in COVID-19 safety protocols, offering among the strongest safety guidelines, including GBAC certifications, and are committed to the health and safety of all attendees, exhibitors and customers.
As Turner explains, New Orleans is “Built to Host” meetings and conventions of all sizes. More than 26,000 hotel rooms, major restaurants, venues and attractions are all within walking distance of major hotels. The walkability of the city, combined with the food, music, culture and architecture provide a uniquely New Orleans experience. “The New Orleans & Company team understands the city’s unique and authentic culture, and can connect planners with business partners needed to produce world-class meetings,” Turner says. “Our sales leaders are experts in understanding the unique needs of the insurance and financial meetings industry, and are actively involved in Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals [FICP].”
New Orleans & Company also offers a suite of complimentary services to help customers get the most out of their meetings — from planning to organization to promotion. “We are a knowledgeable, experienced team of professionals ready to assist you through the planning process — even before the planning begins,” Turner says. “We are a one-stop shop for both sales and service departments, with a team of more than 1,100 members. And, we offer customized marketing and attendance-building tools to help you boost attendance.”
From the attendees’ perspective, the unique culture, cuisine and general joie de vivre are a huge draw for New Orleans. As Jeff O’Hara, CMP, DMCP, president of PRA New Orleans, says, New Orleans’ cuisine is built on a blend of Caribbean, Creole and Cajun ingredients, bringing a burst of flavors to the dining experience.
“New Orleans regularly rates among the most-awarded cities in the United States for our restaurants,” O’Hara says. “New Orleans is also a city the has preserved its history, while most of the big cities in the U.S. have bulldozed theirs to make way for high-rise buildings and office parks. From the wrought-iron Spanish architecture of the French Quarter, to the grandeur of the mansions in the Garden District, it is a fine reflection of the unique history of the city. And, of course, meeting attendees are drawn to the revelry of the French Quarter, which an astute planner can have them experience in an upscale environment.”
From the planners’ perspective, New Orleans hotels are all built specifically for the group meeting market. As O’Hara explains, as New Orleans is not a large transient business travel market, hotels are built to cater to group events. Flexible meeting spaces, large ballrooms and even exhibit areas are the norm.
“Next, the compactness of the city is a great convenience to meeting planners,” O’Hara says. “Many of the venues they will use are within walking distance of the hotel core, and nothing is more than a 10-minute transfer. So it takes the cost and logistics of transferring people to popular venues out of their stream of worry for events in New Orleans.” And where else can you create a full Mardi Gras parade to escort guests to their evening event?
But as O’Hara adds, it is not just the hotels that are built for corporate meetings, the city’s restaurants and venues are as well, with multiple private spaces the norm. “In fact, Arnaud’s restaurant has 17 private dining rooms and Antoine’s has 14. These are just two examples of the many restaurants that cater to corporate events,” O’Hara says.
Christina Chifici, audit director at LaPorte CPAs & Business Advisors, recently orchestrated an event at The Higgins Hotel New Orleans, Curio Collection by Hilton. “We selected the Higgins Hotel as the venue for our 2021 [annual conference],” Chifici says. The event had been at a hotel nearby in the New Orleans Warehouse District for several years, but had outgrown the capacity to handle the conference. “Further, the new close-by location of The Higgins Hotel was better planned as a conference hotel than our previous venue, and could handle the capacity we needed for both programs and sponsor exhibit space,” Chifici says.
In the past, the group had alternated this conference between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. “We found that our highest attendance occurred when the conference location was held in New Orleans,” Chifici says. “The Higgins Hotel was a preferred location due to its walking distance to fabulous restaurants, as well as the renowned WWII Museum across the street. We held our networking cocktail reception at the museum. The museum is also an attraction for attendees that may want to expand their stay to tour the museum.”
Indeed, as Marc Becker, director of marketing and sales for The Higgins Hotel, explains, you will find a superior conference center, all on one level, with natural light and 12,000 sf of meeting and event space, plus pre-function spaces. “It offers an atmosphere of interest and quality that represents the city and proximity to the city’s No. 1 visitor attraction: The National WWII Museum,” Becker says. “The opportunity to combine activities at The National WWII Museum’s various spaces, along with the Higgins, and the fact that proceeds from the hotel benefit the ongoing educational programming of the museum, are both additional ‘feel goods.’”
New Orleans also is the perfect setting for a meeting with cultural offerings unlike any other. “Reward your hard-working team with unmatched experiences like a private fishing charter featuring a celebrity chef who cooks what you catch, or get together in exclusive, luxury suites at the Caesars Superdome or Smoothie King Center and experience world-class sports and entertainment,” Turner says. “Celebrate your achievements with a private concert from local legends like Trombone Shorty and Irma Thomas at Preservation Hall, followed by a chef’s-table experience with award-wining chefs.”
Some of the newest hotels to grace New Orleans are the Four Seasons New Orleans; Virgin Hotels New Orleans and Kimpton Hotel Fontenot. Recently open, Vue Orleans, located on the 33rd and 34th floors of Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans, is an indoor and outdoor observation deck and exhibit featuring the only 360-degree panoramic riverfront views of New Orleans and beyond.
For food connoisseurs in any group, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum is offering an in-depth look into how to create delicious, traditional dishes that can be found nowhere else in the world, while discussing their cultural and historical origins.
Of course, while New Orleans celebrates new and updated hotel and venue offerings, the classic standbys are sure to please both meeting planners and attendees alike. Jen Pace, CMP, program design & sourcing manager, consulting solutions with Event Travel Management, says there are many different hotels for planners to choose from to fit the needs of their program — budget, quality and size — from boutique to large convention hotels, with a variety of rooms and function spaces.
“New Orleans also offers history, culture, great dining and fun, which is a great draw for events,” Pace says. “There are some great new hotels that have opened in the last year, specifically the Four Seasons and the Virgin Hotel. I think new hotels are always a big draw for a destination. Also, the warehouse/art district is growing, and has created new areas to stay and visit, alongside all the new restaurants. Eating and drinking are always a big draw for the Big Easy.”
Tod Chambers, general manager at The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, says the hotel is an ideal spot for both social and professional groups in the region. The hotel offers more than 60,000 sf of event space, including the historic Blue Room, which is one of the original supper theaters from the 1930s and 1940s. “That room and the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom are the favorite venues for many social events,” Chambers says. “Our largest ballroom is 20,000 sf, which is an excellent facility for many mid-size convention groups. Lastly, when not attending meetings, enjoy a cocktail in the historically significant Sazerac Bar, which is a true memorable experience.”
The Roosevelt recently completed a full $40 million renovation of all guest rooms and public spaces, including the hotel’s banquet space. “I absolutely loved working at this hotel. It genuinely feels like a family,” says a meeting planner who worked with The Roosevelt for an event. “Almost without exception, the staff are invested, friendly and want to help. I have been doing this for 22 years, and have seldom experienced such warmth from such a close-knit professional team. The client and the guests loved the hotel. I cannot, hand on heart, remember when I have had a large event like this and not received one single complaint about any aspect of the hotel. Everything was top-notch and excellent.”
In fact, New Orleans’ roster of large convention hotels, coupled with numerous choices for boutique and historic properties, make it an ideal location for meetings of all sizes. “For the large meetings, we have four hotels over 1,000 rooms, and a convention center with 1.1 million sf of convention space,” O’Hara says. “On the other end, historic favorites, like the Royal Sonesta and Monteleone, are joined by newer boutique properties like the Ace and the Virgin.”
JW Marriott New Orleans also offers an exceptional meetings retreat for planners and attendees alike. Upon arrival, attendees are welcomed into one of the 501 richly appointed guest rooms, dressed in modern luxury and offering a peaceful retreat above the busy streets of New Orleans, with a choice of city or French Quarter views.
“The meetings and events spaces offer intricate details, such as magnificent glass chandeliers and New Orleans-inspired crown molding, which blend modern elegance with Old-World charm,” says James Mollere, director of hotel sales at JW Marriott New Orleans.
Seat up to 750 guests theater-style in the 6,000-sf Ile de France Grand Ballroom, the hotel’s largest event space, with a balcony overlooking Canal Street. Additionally, the hotel’s eighth-floor Executive Meeting spaces offer a unique atmosphere to foster engagement and productivity with semi-private terraces.
“With a variety of unique features, such as natural lighting and indoor/outdoor access throughout several of the 19 meetings and events spaces, planners can select from a variety of floor plans to best suit their needs,” Mollere says. “JW Marriott New Orleans is an ideal all-inclusive option to plan every type of event a meeting planner would need to provide attendees a holistic experience from start to finish. From a welcome reception in a bi-level suite, to a large reunion in our Grand Ballroom or post-meeting celebration on one our outdoor terraces, there is something for everyone.”
In a city known for its distinct celebrations and unique ambiance, Hyatt Regency New Orleans is another premier hotel destination hosting some of the city’s prestigious meetings and events. Located in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the Caesars Superdome, Smoothie King Center and Champions Square, the hotel boasts nearly 1,200 guest rooms with fantastic city views, and more than 200,000 sf of event space. This space includes 70 breakout rooms, seven boardrooms, two 25,000-sf ballrooms and 75,000 sf of exhibition space.
Located in downtown New Orleans, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside also offers attendees an idyllic destination on the banks of the Mississippi River. With more than 130,000 sf of renovated space, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside can accommodate a variety of meetings and events, including self-contained small- and medium-sized meetings in its dedicated Riverside Complex, which boasts additional guest rooms and amenities. A mere four blocks from the Canal Street shops and the French Quarter, attendees can engage in the favorite hot spots of New Orleans, while enjoying the quieter area of the city’s Warehouse and Arts District.
While New Orleans is teeming with unique Spanish and French architectural nuances, the Omni Riverfront Hotel boasts a more contemporary flair. Omni Riverfront Hotel is located one block from the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and is convenient to other attractions in the Warehouse and Arts District. Its close proximity to the convention center makes the Omni an ideal venue.
O’Hara advises meeting planners to take advantage of the unique culture and include it in your program. Bring your group to their evening dinner in a Mardi Gras parade, as it is one of the experiences that always wows even the most-seasoned travelers. “Then we have many ways of creating an upscale experience while your group enjoys the revelry of the French Quarter, whether it is from a venue with private balcony overlooking Bourbon Street or in a private room in one of our historic restaurants,” O’Hara says.
He encourages planners to include something that takes their group to parts of the city they may not explore on their own. For instance, the Garden District is only 10 minutes from the city center, or perhaps host a dinner for attendees in a historic mansion and transfer them there in a private streetcar through the majestic oak trees of St. Charles Avenue. Or better yet, a late afternoon zooming through the bayous on an airboat, followed by a Cajun cookout is an ideal team-building experience.
“A big issue post-pandemic, and we saw the same thing post-Katrina, is that it has been difficult financially on all of the hotels, restaurants and venues. Many old favorites have gone out of business and many are not up to their previous standard,” O’Hara says. “It is important to have a local partner on the ground in a destination to guide you through the best options for your group who knows the current state of each venue. Fortunately, New Orleans is a hospitality city, with most of our venues and restaurants being locally and/or family owned, providing that extra level of resilience and care — so there are a lot of great choices. I&FMM