New Orleans Tourism, Meetings Are Robust on Eve of Katrina Milestone

On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is experiencing a positive period of tourism and meetings market performance. According to Smith Travel Research, the city’s hotel occupancy has been on the rise and revenue per available room (RevPAR) continued to gain. From January through May this year, New Orleans’ RevPAR was 15 percent higher than that of the same period in 2009. 

The healthy hotel performance indicators gave Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, the confidence to dub 2010 “a great year” thus far. “We’ve seen an across-the-board rebound in leisure and special events business,” he says, adding, “Last year was rough not in the number of meetings but in attendance because of the economy. 2010 has been exactly the reverse of that.”

Perry, speaking to Successful Meetings about the state of New Orleans meetings and tourism, says the city has completely turned the corner from the catastrophic 2005 hurricane. “It’s completely in the rear-view mirror, and it has actually helped the city’s hospitality industry become stronger,” he says. “Downtown looks better than ever, and we have 27 percent more restaurants now than pre-Katrina.”

Perry says New Orleans suffered less than other destinations after the breakout of the Wall Street crisis and negative perception of corporate meetings because of the enormous corporate social responsibility presence in the city. But he says corporate meetings are still a down spot in an otherwise bright meetings picture. 

“There was no question that we haven’t seen the number of corporate meetings we normally see, through the first parts of this year,” says the city’s tourism marketing chief. “Association meetings and trade shows are doing well, but corporate is not at the level it was.“ 

As Corporate America claws its way back to profitability, Perry says there is a buffer of time before meeting levels return. The C-suite, facing mixed signals on Wall Street, is still restrictive on meetings. “Unfortunately, they were also one of the first things to go too.”

Perry says in terms of market resiliency, government meetings have been strong, and he cites the Obama administration as the driver of those meetings. “There are lots of new directives and initiatives and new people in office, so naturally there is the need for government agencies to meet.”

New Orleans will continue to leverage the positive destination image it has cultivated after Katrina through visiting groups’ community give-back projects and the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl victory last NFL season. 

Also encouraging is that a number of major groups has picked up 100 percent of their room blocks, indicating a resurgence in meeting attendance in the city, Perry says. “When we go through a recessionary period, the impact to meetings is always immediate and the recovery is always slower [than the general recovery],” says Perry. “But we’re feeling very optimistic right now.”