Unveiling New Orleans: A Beacon of Innovation & Hospitality for Conferences

25th August 2023

During Destinations International’s Annual Meeting in July, Boardroom had the opportunity to explore destinations that were new to our editorial focus. In this interview, we engage with Walter J. Leger III, President and CEO of New Orleans & Company.

How would you introduce New Orleans – to somebody who knows nothing about it! – as a conference destination?

New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich cities on the planet, and is world renowned for its unique brand of joy, celebrations, festivals, food, music, and architecture.

New Orleans is also a city that is truly Built to Host with billions of dollars in investments in hotels, new cultural attractions, a beautiful new airport terminal, enhanced walkability and other infrastructure that makes us such an attractive location for major events and meetings.

We’ve solidified our reputation as a premier host for major events, conferences, and meetings in the US through continuous evolution and future-focused innovation. Our city is abuzz with exciting ongoing developments, including nearly $1 billion in hotel renovations at various stages, and attracting global luxury and lifestyle brands like the Four Seasons Hotel and the Virgin Hotel (both opened in 2021). Caesars Entertainment, Inc. is investing $325 million in renovating and rebranding Harrah’s Hotel and Casino, with plans for a 340-room hotel tower by 2024. The iconic Superdome has been renamed the Caesars Superdome, with final touches planned for the 2025 Super Bowl, coinciding with the Superdome’s 50th Anniversary.

In addition, there are ongoing investments in unique experiences outside of traditional meeting venues, including attractions such as the Vue Orleans Observatory and JAM NOLA. The National World War II Museum has expanded with Expressions of America, a nighttime sound and light experience that combines outdoor projection technology with wartime stories. The museum has also introduced the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, enhancing the New Orleans skyline, and plans to open the Liberation Pavilion and dedicate the Col. Battle Barksdale Parade Ground. The recently renovated Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers new exhibit space and an updated entrance and lobby after a $40 million transformation.

We also continue to invest in sustainability, the LEED Gold-certified New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) has embarked on a $557 million improvement plan including renovations to the interior and a makeover of the exterior experience. The Convention Center also recently added a Chief Diversity Officer – the first in the country – and a dedicated sustainability committee. The NOENMCC is the largest convention center project in the U.S. certified under LEED v4.1 Operations and Maintenance and the first convention center in the world to be awarded initial certification under LEED v4.1 O+M.

MCCNO ©Kathy Anderson Photography

Do you have a strategy geared at international associations? 

Welcoming others is in our DNA and allows us to highlight and celebrate our authentically diverse people and culture, as well as our excellence in executing complex logistics for events of all types. We believe that travel is a force for good to unify people, knock down barriers and celebrate our differences, that’s why we have re-launched our Everyone’s Welcome Here campaign which celebrates diversity and welcomes EVERYONE, especially our LGBTQ+ visitors.

At New Orleans & Company we are able to provide marketing and attendance building for international associations and groups, an attractive feature that includes comprehensive sourcing assistance, convention services and complimentary customized group marketing and attendance building tools, as well as full access to our sales services and marketing professionals who are fully integrated to provide a seamless workflow in a dynamic, fast-paced meeting environment.

In what ways can New Orleans be considered a city of innovation and creativity?

New Orleans thrives as a hub of innovation, creativity, and sustainability, driving advancements across various sectors. Notable innovations emerging from the city include the Artemis Rocket, constructed at NASA’s Michoud Facility to carry the first woman and person of color to the moon, showcasing New Orleans’ role as a key player in space manufacturing. Our commitment to sustainability is evident through initiatives like the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s shell recycling program, which has returned over 13 million lbs of oyster shells from local restaurants to restore oyster reefs, mitigate erosion, and foster habitat growth.

The Louisiana Wind Energy Hub at the University of New Orleans’ Research and Technology park fosters innovation and education in offshore wind energy, contributing to the state’s growing wind energy ecosystem. New Orleans’ impressive urban public spaces, including City Park with its renowned New Orleans Museum of Art, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and the sustainable Louisiana Children’s Museum, underscore our dedication to enriching the community through creative and sustainable projects.

In collaboration with various partners, including the city of New Orleans and Can Manufacturers Institute, New Orleans & Company launched the Recycle Dat! Initiative. This initiative, building upon previous Carnival recycling efforts, aims to increase aluminum can and bead recycling along the St. Charles Avenue parade route, further exemplifying our commitment to sustainability. New Orleans’ multifaceted innovations resonate with our city’s vibrant spirit, fostering progress and sustainability in various domains.

Can you elaborate on New Orleans’s key industries and competitive clusters?

New Orleans has a diverse economy with the main sectors being energy, advanced manufacturing, international trade, healthcare and tourism. Home to internationally-known universities, hospitals and a Bioinnovation Center, the city is also one of the country’s top meeting and convention destinations.

The hospitality and tourism industry in New Orleans is a major driver of the region’s economy, employing nearly 75,000 residents. Hosting is part of our nature and what we do best. The New Orleans & Company team works on behalf of its 1,100 members and our community to attract major conferences, conventions and events. Tourism continues to remain one of the top revenue generators and contributes almost 43% of the city’s sales taxes paid by visitors. 

In 2022, we welcomed 17.53 million visitors who spent approximately $9.1 billion. When we compare those numbers to 2019 (pre-COVID), where we welcomed 19.75 million visitors with $10 billion of spending, we expect to reach pre-COVID levels by 2024. Those visitors directly contribute to an industry that generates nearly 40 percent of the city’s operating budget, and the benefits extend to the entire state. Without funds generated by the New Orleans tourism industry, every family in Louisiana would have to pay thousands of dollars more per year in taxes. 

In addition to tourism, some of the largest companies in New Orleans include: Ochsner Health System, Tulane University, Woodward Design + Build, Entergy Corporation, Whitney Holding Corporation., Boh Bros Construction and Superior Energy Services. New Orleans main competitive clusters include Orlando, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Dallas and Houston, Texas; and Chicago, Illinois. 

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