Rebuilding a city from widespread disaster is no small feat. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, shock waves of panic and disbelief reverberated around the nation. Other parts of the state had also seen better days, and visitor spending took a significant plunge. But 10 years later, Louisiana has rebounded in ways it never knew it could.
New Orleans and Shreveport have emerged with an entrepreneurial spirit in the form of innovation districts, independent arts and a remarkable joie de vivre. And soon, groups will be able to visit both cities with nonstop service from Glo Airlines, a new startup air carrier based in New Orleans. Starting Dec. 14, routes between Shreveport and New Orleans will connect visitors to a two-sided experience of Louisiana.
In August, the city reflected on its course of renewal during the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The community came together in true New Orleans spirit to commemorate lives lost and hardships faced. President Barack Obama was in attendance with a message of hope for the city. “You [New Orleans] are an example of what is possible when in the face of tragedy, in the face of hardship; good people come together and lend a hand,” he said.
In the years since the devastation, statistics show that tourism has rebounded above pre-Katrina levels. According to New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the number of visitors and annual spending have more than tripled since 2005—last year, approximately 9.52 million visitors spent a record $6.81 billion. New Orleans now has 600 more restaurants and 850 new hotel rooms, and the numbers are growing.
Cara Banasch, senior vice president of business development and strategy at New Orleans CVB, attributes the city’s evolution to an entrepreneurial surge that has brought forth a new generation of chefs, engineers, architects and designers. “New Orleans’ restaurants, hotels and attractions have brought state-of-the-art technology and modern trends to this historic city,” she says.
This month, the BioDistrict hosts Innovation Louisiana 2015, an annual life science technology and startup conference in BioInnovation Center, the first LEED Gold certified laboratory building in the state, with 66,000 sq. ft. of lab and high-tech conference space. In October, Crescent City also hosted NOLATech Week, the largest free technology conference in the South, drawing speakers from Microsoft, TechCrunch and Twitter.
New & Improved
Since Katrina, storm protection has undergone a massive overhaul, and so has New Orleans’ meetings infrastructure. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is rolling out a brand-new, state-of-the-art airport terminal in 2018. The airport has already received more than $350 million in improvements in the last few years.
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, one of the largest and most technologically advanced convention centers in the country, has begun to revitalize 47 acres surrounding its riverfront corridor. The $175 million project proposes an adjoining MGM Grand Hotel, dining, shopping and performance venues, with the hopes of completing it before the city’s tricentennial in 2018.
Some may know Shreveport as a southern hub for the oil and gas industry, or for its cluster of casinos shared with twin city Bossier. But that’s only half the story. Often overshadowed by New Orleans’ flamboyance, Shreveport and Bossier call themselves Louisiana’s “other side” for more than one reason. These two cities offer another side of Louisiana food, art and culture for groups to experience.
Exciting things are happening in Shreveport-Bossier, and downtown is beginning to take shape. After a fire ravaged Shreveport Regional Arts Council building and surrounding areas in 2009, the city came together, raising $6 million to rebuild Shreveport Common. The formerly blighted nine-block historic area at the western edge has become a cultural focal point of downtown Shreveport. Locals are enjoying new residential and retail spaces, artist collectives and community green spaces that have since emerged.
“The downtown district is thriving,” says David Bradley, vice president of convention and tourism sales for Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The community is excited about supporting new local businesses and…fun opportunities for people to experience, such as the pop-up markets in areas like the Red River District.”
Shreveport Convention Center, with 350,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, is close to a number of unique experiences designed for groups. Sci-Port Science Center, which overlooks the Red River separating Shreveport from Bossier, holds tours just for adults. Groups can taste ice cream made from liquid nitrogen and trace constellations in the planetarium.
On the other side of downtown, Shreveport Municipal Auditorium harkens back to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and is a favorite place for groups to visit. Constructed in 1929, the Art Deco structure was where World War I soldiers were first processed. Later it became home of the Louisiana Hayride, a country-music radio show that was broadcast across the United States from 1946 to 1960. Music legends such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Hank Williams found their starts on its stage.
In 2012, Gregory Kallenberg had just finished filming a documentary when he decided that a local film festival would fit right into his newly transformed hometown. He created the Louisiana Film Prize in the hope that it would further expand and transform Shreveport’s creative community. And so far, it has.
Each year, the top film is chosen by the public to receive a cash prize of $50,000. Last month, the fourth annual film festival, now with a food and music component, gained its largest audience and best selection of films yet. “As South by Southwest transformed Austin, the Louisiana Film Prize will do the same for our region,” Kallenberg says.
Gators & Friends
Photo by Shreveport CVB
For a ziplining experience like no other, head to Gators & Friends, just outside Shreveport. Groups zip across a pit of alligators sunning themselves below.
Cafe Du Monde
The legendary cafe in New Orleans has served its famous chicory coffee and powdered-sugar beignets the same way for more than a century.
Red River Brewing Company
Next month, the local brewery will open a new tap and tasting room in downtown Shreveport. Red River Brewing Company is also adding a session IPA to its lineup.
This institution spawned one of the most prolific New Orleans jazz bands. Although Preservation Hall Jazz Band tours often, the hall has nightly performances.
In a city bursting with flavor and gusto, New Orleanians consider their collective cuisine to be a quasi-religious experience. From Cajun to Creole, calling one dish a favorite sounds close to impossible. But perhaps it is the po’ boy, an iconic sandwich that has remained part of the city’s identity since its humble beginnings during a street car strike in 1929. The original sandwich is made of fried oysters or shrimp piled high on a crusty French loaf, with a smear of butter and a side of pickles.
But times change, and in some cases, so does the po’ boy. Now there’s a roast beef version with gravy drippings, another with shrimp and fried green tomatoes and even some with andouille, soft-shell crab and catfish fillings—just to name a few. At GW Fins, the modest sandwich is transformed into a delicacy, with battered chunks of lobster, remoulade and Creole mustard dippers. Once a year, restaurants bring their best inventions to Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. More than 50 vendors compete to win accolades for the best po’ boy in categories of meat, seafood and other specialties. This year’s bake-off takes place Nov. 22.
Major Meeting Venues
In the heart of the French Quarter; 218 guest rooms with private balconies overlooking Bourbon Street; 6,588 sq. ft. of event space; courtyard receptions for up to 150; free Wi-Fi; dining at Roux on New Orleans.
Newly renovated with 1.1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space; sixth-largest convention facility in the nation; 140 meeting rooms; two ballrooms; 4,000-seat auditorium; 60,000-square-foot Great Hall.
Landmark hotel; 254 guest rooms with 12-foot ceilings; 10,660 sq. ft. of function space; Jackson Square, Riverwalk and French Market are within walking distance.
Iconic AAA Four Diamond hotel in French Quarter; built in 1866; 570 guest rooms, including 55 luxury suites; more than 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; merry-go-round at Carousel Bar & Lounge.
Completed extensive renovations last year; 410 guest rooms, including 22 suites; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space; close to Harrah’s New Orleans and Warehouse District.
Sheraton New Orleans
Just steps from Mississippi River; 1,110 guest rooms; AAA Four Diamond meeting facility with more than 100,000 sq. ft. of space; Pelican Bar and Roux Bistro.
Forbes Four Star, AAA Four Diamond 23-story hotel; 316 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of function space; spa named No. 1 in New Orleans by USA Today; award-winning restaurant and lounges.
Located 3.5 miles from Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV); 142 guest rooms; 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; free Wi-Fi; indoor pool and whirlpool spa; 24-hour business center; courtyard putting green.
Adjacent to Shreveport Convention Center; 313 guest rooms; 350,000 sq. ft. of flexible space; complimentary airport shuttle service; three restaurants.
Close to six casinos, boardwalk shops and entertainment; 114 guest rooms; around 9,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor function space; connected to Hilton Garden Inn Shreveport Bossier City.
Downtown convention center with 350,000 sq. ft. of total space; three exhibit halls total 95,000 sq. ft. of space; 2,460 sq. ft. in circular Red River Room; 18,000 sq. ft. in upstairs ballrooms.
The Remington Suite Hotel & Spa
Historic boutique hotel built in 1907; 22 guest rooms; more than 1,400 sq. ft. of meeting space; full-service spa; free Wi-Fi; media center.