SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS October 2007 The quintessential party town, famous for making light of care, has recently been challenged beyond all expectation. But just as remarkably, it has risen like a phoenix from its decimation by Katrina, and now looks to meeting groups to help rebuild its core.
Essential Tool Box
Convention Center: Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, 1.1 million sf of dedicated exhibit space; 140 meeting rooms, 2 ballrooms, and 4,032-seat auditorium.
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Daily Business Costs*:
Hotel $149.22 F&B $85.49 Car Rental $103.50
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New Orleans CVB
*Business Travel News 2007 Corporate Travel Index
Two years after Katrina, SM contributor Patricia Alisau remembers her stint as a relief volunteer: "I spent almost four months navigating through the physical and emotional wreckage. I was often met with tears, anguish, and despair in the beginning; then later, hope.
"But everywhere, I found resilience as well, as if survivors were saying to themselves, 'This, too, shall pass.' This was their unshakable core.
"Many New Orleans hoteliers whose properties housed thousands of evacuees after the storm found renewed vigor in service to their communities. One commented that, although the room rates the government was paying them for sheltering the newly homeless were much lower [than normal], the hotel reaped greater rewards by gaining goodwill.
"Although conventions had to be canceled in damaged hotels, property owners used this as a turnaround time to focus on modernizing facilities while repairs were being made. Brainstorming sessions created new marketing strategies, catering to new audiences. More meeting space went into the pipeline as the new segments were being tapped. A disaster was transformed into opportunity. "
Phase IV construction on the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (which fully reopened last Dec) was stalled when, last month, the center's board of commissioners voted instead for a post-Katrina "Phase I" plan to improve and upgrade the older parts of the facility. According to Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans CVB, "The shift of focus is a decisive step in the right direction for the future of the local convention and meetings business." Improvements recommended to the board for Phase I are expected to include better lighting, technological advancements, and new amenities that will make the convention center competitive in changing market conditions, which will help speed growth and recovery from the effects of Katrina.
Meanwhile, the center has launched a new virtual site tour of the 1.1-million-sf facilities at www.MCCSiteTour.com in order to showcase the recent $60 million in improvements. Planners can opt to view an empty exhibit hall, then view a hall where a show is in progress, allowing them to better visualize their potential meeting at the convention center.
Groups Should Consider
Groups should consider these recommendations from Successful Meetings' Home Team* experts. Top choices include the 346-room Omni Royal, the 570-room Hotel Monteleone, the 474-room Ritz-Carlton, and the 119-room International House. Off-site recommendations include the Fulton Street Entertainment District; Bayou Barn; and Mardi Gras World.
*Home Team contributors who informed this section include Bonnie Boyd (GEP); LeAnne Grillo; Terry Jackson (PRA); and Gloria Nelson, CSEP. Contact them at [email protected]
There is still so much curiosity surrounding the condition of New Orleans that I was interested to see for myself how the city looked when I visited for The Jazz and Heritage Festival in April. I stayed at the 500-room Royal Sonesta, which is in the perfect location in the French Quarter, and I found a beautiful city that was appreciative of and welcoming to visitors.
One lesson learned, though: Make dinner reservations ahead of time. Still even without reservations, I found myself at Muriel's, where the tables by the bar are first come, first served. I shared a table with two couples who'd lived in New Orleans prior to Katrina, but were forced to move after the storm destroyed their homes. They were back in the city for the first time since the hurricane. It turned out to be not only a phenomenal meal (the shrimp and goat cheese crepes are fantastic), but a learning experience and excellent conversation as well.
The next night I asked the concierge for help. He got me a table at Stella!, a charming restaurant on Chartres Street where I sat in the back courtyard and was treated to a wonderful meal, which I ended with an avocado milkshake with espresso granita and jalapeno-it's worth a try if you're feeling adventurous. I will be back in New Orleans for Jazz Fest 2008, and you can be sure that I'll have dinner reservations as soon as I have a flight and hotel room. In a city with that many great restaurants, I'm not taking any more chances.-Kinley Levack
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New Orleans CVB
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