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NEW ORLEANS — The latest New Orleans 500 survey shows that the imminent return of New Orleans’ “festival season” is cause for celebration among the city’s hospitality executives — and also welcome news for many CEOs in others sectors of the economy. Half of the leaders who responded to the survey said these gatherings increased their company’s bottom line.
It goes without saying that operators of hotels, tour companies, restaurants and other visitor-dependent businesses are optimistic about the return of Jazz Fest, Essence Fest, French Quarter Fest, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and other events that attract paying customers. For many executives, in fact, the tourist influx can’t come soon enough, especially after the city has endured two years with far fewer visitors 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 New Orleans Steamboat Company. “We are part of the hospitality industry, which has suffered more due to COVID than any other segment of our economy. The return of festivals and events is a godsend.”
Michael Sawaya, Morial Convention Center president, 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. “The 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 hospitality industry overall is heavily reliant on events.
“Our major spring and summer festivals attract leisure customers over their active dates but they also draw conventions to their pre-and post-festival dates as planners see these events as a way to draw more attendees to their convention,” he said. “This symbiotic relationship helps to add attendees to the festivals and provides more stability to the hotels, restaurants, transportation, retail and entertainment sectors on the dates preceding and following the festivals. Our festival season is a way to showcase the culture of our city in a way that is tangible and authentic and that brings in a broader audience during festival season.”
‘Rising Tide Lifts All Boats’
The positive effects of festivals and events extend beyond the hospitality industry, however. As Mimi Dossett, president of the Money Hill golf community in Abita Springs, said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Gootee Construction owner Benjamin Gootee, for instance, said that because tourism and events are major components of the New Orleans economy, they naturally contribute to his company’s revenue.
“The hospitality market is a contributing part of our overall construction portfolio,” he said. “With the return of festivals and events is the return of cash flow for the whole hospitality market. The fortunate owners with cash reserves were able to take advantage of the slow period to catch up on much-needed capital projects, but now they need to start seeing a ROI on the work completed. The less fortunate, who were still able to hang on, are desperately needing this revenue to keep operations going and to start on the long due capital projects that have been neglected.”
Architects Kenneth Gowland, Chip Verges and Marcel Wisznia said that a thriving hospitality industry lays the groundwork for more construction and renovation projects, which is obviously good for their business. For Urban South’s Jacob Landry, meanwhile, it’s a chance to sell more beer at his taproom and to his brewery’s restaurant and hotel customers. And for Teresa Lawrence, president-owner at Delta Personnel, the return of events means many more jobs to fill.
“We are more than excited to ramp up our hospitality division, which began in 1998,” she said. “Event staffing is a great business for our company. It provides a continuous applicant flow that allows us to vet for other industries. The return of festival season represents more than a 30 percent increase in our bottom line. … Whether you are a vendor, or a supplier, nothing compares to the energy festival season brings back to our city.”
Economic development execs, 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 visibility. And public relations pro Betsie Gambel said this year’s events have special significance because they mark a new beginning.
“People are ready to move forward from the pandemic,” she said, “and companies should benefit from that optimism and sense of confidence in getting back to normal.”
Tulane business professor Peter Ricchiuti might have summed it best when he said that the return of festivals bring a “feeling that we can sell New Orleans again. … For a town built on fun, we looked too much like every other city for the past two years.”