New Orleans: Convention Attendance Down in 2009

Although 2009 was expected to bring New Orleans its third straight year of meetings growth since Hurricane Katrina, the Crescent City actually saw a decline, local newspaper The Times-Picayune reported last month.

In fact, New Orleans did host more meetings in 2009 than it did in 2006, 2007 and 2008, according to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. However, attendance at those meetings—expected to be up slightly over 2008, by 1.3 percent—was down between 10 and 25 percent, depending on the event.

"2009 initially looked like our best year since the hurricane," New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Convention Marketing Jeff Anding told The Times-Picayune. "But people did not want to spend the money to come and exhibitors were reining in their budgets. The year we thought we were going to gain some traction, we really didn't."

Total attendance at convention center meetings fell to 634,829 last year. Although that's down from 683,926 in 2008, it's still up more than three times from early post-Katrina levels, when meeting attendance barely topped 180,000.

"When we talk to our clients, the reason that was given almost 100 percent of the time was budget constraints. They almost always brought it back to the economy," Anding continued. "If there was any reservation about the city they didn't communicate it to us. That's what makes this a shame."

Despite a disappointing 2009, New Orleans continues to expect a brighter 2010 and 2011, according to convention center projections, which place attendance at 704,975 this year and 678,333 next year.

"The good news is toward the end of 2009, in the fourth quarter, we had several meetings where both exhibitor participation and attendance showed a marked increase over the projected attendance and even over historical attendance," said Morial Convention Center General Manager Bob Johnson. "The leading indicators for us coming out of a recession are those two items."