NEW ORLEANS — The latest New Orleans 500 survey shows New Orleans’ impending “festival season” return is cause for celebration among the city’s hospitality executives — and good news for hoteliers too. CEOs from all sectors of the economy.
Needless to say, operators of hotels, tour operators, restaurants and other visitor-dependent businesses are optimistic about the return of Jazz Fest, Essence Fest, French Quarter Fest, NCAA Men’s Final Four and other events that attract much-needed paying customers. . For many executives, in fact, the influx of tourists can’t come soon enough, especially after enduring two years with far fewer visitors to the city than normal.
“Our businesses – the Steamboat Natchez, Riverboat City of New Orleans, Gray Line Tours and Café Beignet Restaurants – all thrive on tourism,” said Gordon Stevens, president of the New Orleans Steamboat Company. “We are part of the hospitality industry, which has suffered more from COVID than any other segment of our economy. The return of festivals and events is a godsend.
Michael Sawaya, president of the Morial Convention Center, agrees. For him, New Orleans festivals and events are the ultimate sales tool.
“Our reputation as a dynamic destination is critical to our ability to attract conventions and conferences to New Orleans,” he said. “Festivals showcase the best of what our city has to offer and visitors contribute enormously to our local and regional economy.
And Jim Cook, general manager of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, said the hotel industry as a whole is highly dependent on events.
“Our main spring and summer festivals attract leisure customers during their active dates, but they also attract conventions on their pre- and post-festival dates, as planners see these events as a way to attract more attendees at their convention,” he said. “This symbiotic relationship helps add festival attendees and provides more stability to the hospitality, restaurant, transportation, retail and entertainment sectors on pre- and post-festival dates. Our festival season is a way to showcase our city’s culture in a tangible and authentic way that attracts a wider audience during festival season.
“The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats”
However, the positive effects of the events in New Orleans extend beyond the hospitality industry. Bankers, insurance executives, truckers, technology entrepreneurs, investment advisers, publicists, real estate agents, accountants, lawyers, nonprofit leaders, engineers, experts in recruiting, builders, real estate developers and other executives have all said they drive business. Or, as Mimi Dossett, President of the Money Hill Golf Community in Abita Springs put it: “A rising tide lifts all boats.
Gootee Construction owner Benjamin Gootee, for example, said that because tourism and events are major components of New Orleans’ economy, they naturally contribute to his company’s revenue.
“The hospitality market is an integral part of our overall construction portfolio,” he said. “With the return of festivals and events, it is the return of cash flow for the entire hospitality market. Lucky homeowners with cash reserves were able to take advantage of the downturn to catch up on much-needed capital projects, but now they should start to see a return on investment on work completed. The less fortunate, who have still been able to hang on, desperately need this income to continue operations and start long-standing investment projects that have been neglected.
Architects Kenneth Gowland, Chip Verges and Marcel Wisznia mentioned that a thriving hospitality industry lays the groundwork for more construction and renovation projects, which is obviously good for their business. Meanwhile, for Urban South’s Jacob Landry, it’s a chance to sell more beer in his tavern and to his brewery’s restaurant and hotel patrons. And for Teresa Lawrence, president and owner of Delta Personnel, the return of events means a lot more vacancies.
“We are more than excited to expand our hotel division, which started in 1998,” she said. “Event staffing is great business for our business. It provides a continuous stream of candidates which allows us to research other industries. The return of the festival season represents an increase of more than 30% in our results. …Whether you’re a seller or a supplier, nothing compares to what the energy festival season brings back to our city.
Economic development officials like World Trade Center New Orleans CEO J. Edwin Webb said big events create more opportunities for face-to-face meetings with potential investors. Buisson Creative founder Greg Buisson said they help his local clients grow their brands and gain exposure. And public relations professional Betsie Gambel said this year’s events have special significance as they mark a new beginning.
“People are ready to come out of the pandemic,” she said, “and businesses should benefit from that optimism and that sense of confidence to get back to normal.”
Peter Ricchiuti might have summed it up better by saying that the return of festivals gives “the feeling that we can sell New Orleans again. … For a city built on fun, we looked too much like every other city in the last two years.