The Crescent City Makes a Comeback

January 26 2010 | Latest News
The Crescent City Makes a Comeback

By Rachel Wimberly -- Tradeshow Week, 12/7/2009

In 2008, just when it seemed like New Orleans was on its way to recovery after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city three years earlier, the economy took a sudden and steep nosedive.

Once again, New Orleans was thrust into a tough situation, only this time the travails of its exhibition and convention industry were shared by destinations across the United States.

Fortunately, though, defying the odds that other cities have not, the Crescent City posted higher event attendance this year, compared with last year, and October was a particularly good month for the city.

“The final quarter of the year is finishing strong,” said Tim Hemphill, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center's vice president of sales and marketing. “October had 60,000 people come to the building.”

He added nine conventions from outside the area and three regional shows all were held in the center that month, three of which occurred simultaneously.

“These particular meetings had good attendance,” Hemphill said.

J. Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “The most dramatic change in the fourth quarter is the higher level of exhibitor and attendee levels at the show.”

In fact, though it's not a show with a lot of attendees, the TEAMS Conference & Expo, held Oct. 13-17 at the Morial CC, saw its biggest numbers ever, according to Tim Schneider, publisher for SportsTravel magazine, which is connected with the show.

“I think New Orleans, among U.S. destinations, has a really unique appeal,” Schneider said. “A lot of our attendees hadn't been there since Hurricane Katrina. I think they were pleasantly surprised.”

There were 1,426 attendees at the five-time Tradeshow Week Fastest 50-winning show, a 19-percent increase, compared with last year's event, he added. Even with the seemingly small attendance numbers, though, attendees are sports event planners and represent sometimes thousands of people who might visit a city for a sporting event.

“New Orleans is in a position to host any number of sporting events,” Schneider said.

October might have been a good month, and overall attendance numbers for the year might be positive overall, but the summer months were no piece of cake for the city, according to Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Assn.

“June was good and (so was) July, but August was bad, and September was worse,” Early said.

She added there were several factors involved. Besides the obvious current economic challenges, there still were residual effects from cancellations after Hurricane Katrina and what Early said has come to be known as the “AIG-effect,” with several corporations opting not to hold meetings in the city.

“Some people panicked and canceled,” Early said. But, she added, even before Hurricane Katrina, summers were slow.

In June and July, Early said, occupancy was between 60 and 65 percent. In August, it dipped to 48 percent. By September, it had slipped to the low 40s.

“In October, it shot back up to 70-plus percent and the numbers look good going into the last part of the fourth quarter,” Early said.

“November is projected to be in the upper 50s to lower 60s, and the first two weeks of December are strong, with 55 percent,” she added.

Some of those numbers will come from attendees and exhibitors heading to the city for the Natl. Ground Water Assn.'s annual meeting Dec. 10-13 at the Morial CC.

Cliff Treyens, public awareness director for the association, said the meeting was booked several years ago. “It is such a unique city, and there are so many positive attractions to it,” he added. “I think everyone is really excited by it. We're expecting a decent turnout for New Orleans.”

Hemphill said he expects 1,500 attendees for the Ground Water Assn. event, but a much bigger number will be arriving, 18,000 attendees, when the American Society of Hematology Meeting and Exposition kicks off Dec. 5-8.

“Considering the holidays, we expect to finish pretty strong,” he added. “Clearly, we are on the uptick.”

Perry said he sees even better times ahead for New Orleans. “I think there are the beginnings of growing confidence in the economy,” he added. “There's (also) been a change in attitude corporate- and association-wise about meetings again. This year, our convention sales team is at 120 percent of their sales goal.”

Perry said, “New Orleans is not only getting back in the rotation of major shows, but also (is) picking up new shows.”

Next year doesn't look so bad either, according to Hemphill. “We're just a little shy of where we were last year at this time, but there are a lot shorter booking windows we are experiencing,” he added.

In fact, there are two shows Hemphill said he couldn't name yet that are significant in size looking to book next year, on as soon as January. “That's an extremely short window,” he added.

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