New Orleans’ tourism industry thrives

When the New Orleans Saints kicked off against the Atlanta Falcons before a nationwide audience, the moment signalled more than just the re-opening of the iconic Louisiana Superdome and the largest audience in ESPN history. It was a jumpstart to the city’s critical hospitality industry for the fall of 2006, featuring a full convention calendar, the return of cruise ships, three major sporting events, and a 30,000-person convention, the largest New Orleans has seen in two years.

Monday night’s game was the biggest audience of the night among all TV networks, broadcast or cable. The dome re-opening, including pre-game concerts by the Goo Goo Dolls, U2 and Green Day, and a coin toss by former U.S. President Bush, featured an audience of nearly 70,000, a Saints victory by 20 points, and an estimated $20 million being pumped into the city’s economy.

“The re-opening of the Superdome is a resounding success economically and emotionally,” says Stephen Perry, President and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The imagery of the Convention Center and the Superdome the nation saw a year ago is being replaced by a new national image, with thousands of returning conventioneers and cheering visitors and locals. Monday’s game gave us an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world that we are back. The feeling in that Superdome and the energy in New Orleans right now is indescribable.”

The hospitality industry is responsible for approximately one-third of the city’s operating budget, $210 million supporting police, EMS, infrastructure, sanitation and education, and is the area’s largest employer with 85,000 jobs. Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, perhaps the most important manufacturing plant in the state, reopened June 19 after a $60 million renovation in time for the American Library Association, first citywide meeting to return to New Orleans.

    Other signs of progress:


    Major Sporting Events
    * Three collegiate football contests that traditionally draw large crowds
    to the city are returning as well: The Bayou Classic, Southern
    University vs. Grambling University, November 25, 2006; The New Orleans
    Bowl ESPN telecast game on December 22, 2006; and The All-State Sugar
    Bowl Classic, January 3, 2007.
    * New Orleans also will host the 57th NBA All-Star Game in February 2008.

    * The National Association of Realtors, holding its annual meeting in
    November, is reporting record pre-registration levels, and is expected
    to bring to New Orleans between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors.  Pre-
    registration is 32 percent ahead of their 2002 convention in New
    Orleans and three percent ahead of last year’s San Francisco meeting,
    which was a record breaker.
    * A full convention calendar for October and November, including the
    American College of Emergency Physicians (6,000 delegates), the
    American Society of Exploration Geophysicists (7,000), American Society
    of Human Genetics (5,200), American Society for Reproductive Medicine
    (6,000), and Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology (5,500).
    * Avaya becomes the first Fortune 500 Company to meet in the Ernest N.
    Morial Convention Center, with 3,800 delegates in mid-October.
    * In addition to the large association meetings previously planned,
    advisory boards of major association and hotel corporations are
    choosing to host their meetings in New Orleans.  This gives us the
    opportunity to host decision-makers in the meeting and travel
    industries so they can reconfirm the allure of New Orleans as a top
    destination and serve as an extended sales force for the New Orleans

    Cruise Ships
    * Other good news this October includes the return of the cruise ship
    industry to the Port of New Orleans, including the Norwegian Cruise
    Lines (Norwegian Sun) and Carnival Cruise Lines (Carnival Fantasy).
    RiverBarge Excursion Lines returns this fall and Royal Caribbean
    International (Grandeur of the Seas) returns in December.
    * According to the Port of New Orleans, cruise business generates $219
    million in direct and indirect sales annually among New Orleans area
    business.  Cruise passenger embarkations and disembarkations grew 818
    percent in the last 11 years before Katrina, from approx. 80,000 in
    1993 to 753,000 in 2004.

    Cultural Economy
    * The Ritz-Carlton Hotel will reopen in December, and the Hyatt’s
    renovation project is underway.
    * Art For Arts’ Sake, a celebration of visual arts in galleries and
    museums Uptown, the Warehouse District and French Quarter, cancelled in
    2005, is being held October 7th to kickoff the 2006-2007 cultural
    * In November the National World War II Museum will welcome international
    historians, newsmakers, authors, political figures and dignitaries when
    it hosts a four-day International Conference on World War II, another
    major event postponed from 2005.

In addition to the church and student groups that have flocked to New Orleans neighborhoods to assist with rebuilding, organizations much as Avaya and the National Association of Realtors are including in their meeting schedules acts of voluntourism and corporate goodwill. Sales executives from Delta Airlines spent a day last week helping to build homes in Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians’ Village in the ninth ward. In June, the American Library Association, restored libraries across New Orleans and awarded grants to schools to help restock their bookshelves.

As New Orleans Saints Drew Brees said in a Sept. 21st Times-Picayune article, “It’s important just to show that the city is very much alive and people are excited to be here—and there’s no doubt in their minds that the city’s going to come back better than ever. I think that’s huge for people to see that, see the atmosphere, and say, ‘Hey, that place is alive.’ I think it’s just even more motivation and a reason for people to bring back tourism and come down here and spend money, because it’s such a special space.”