When the New Orleans Saints kicked off against the Atlanta Falcons before a nationwide audience Monday night, the moment signaled more than just the re-opening of the iconic Louisiana Superdome and the largest audience in ESPN history. It was a jumpstart for the city’s critical tourism industry, in which the 2006 fall convention schedule, sporting events and return of the cruise ships are long-awaited highlights.
Monday night’s dome re-opening, including the pre-game concerts by U2 and Green Day and a coin toss by former U.S. President Bush, featured an audience of nearly 70,000, a Saints victory by 20 points, and an estimated $20 million being pumped into the city’s economy…
"The re-opening of the Superdome is a resounding success economically and emotionally," says Stephen Perry, President and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The imagery of the Convention Center and the Superdome the nation saw a year ago is being replaced by a new national image, with thousands of returning conventioneers and cheering visitors and locals. Monday’s game gave us an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world that we are back. The feeling in that Superdome and the energy in New Orleans right now is indescribable."
The hospitality industry is responsible for approximately one-third of the city’s operating budget, $210 million supporting police, EMS, infrastructure, sanitation and education, and is the area’s largest employer with 85,000 jobs. Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, perhaps the most important manufacturing plant in the state, reopened June 19 after a $60 million renovation in time for the American Library Association, first citywide meeting to return to New Orleans.
Other signs of progress are major sporting events scheduled like college football’s All-State Sugar, NBA All-Star Game for early next year; a full convention calendar for October and November including The National Association of Realtors annual meeting expected to bring to New Orleans between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors; and the reopening of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in December. Other good news this October includes the return of the cruise ship industry to the Port of New Orleans, including the Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines. According to the Port of New Orleans, cruise business generates $219 million in direct and indirect sales annually among New Orleans area business. Cruise passenger visits grew 818 percent in the last 11 years before Katrina, to 753,000 in 2004.
In addition to the church and student groups that have flocked to New Orleans neighborhoods to assist with rebuilding, organizations such as Avaya and the National Association of Realtors are including in their meeting schedules acts of voluntourism and corporate goodwill. Sales executives from Delta Airlines spent a day last week helping to build homes in Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians’ Village in the ninth ward. In June, the American Library Association, restored libraries across New Orleans and awarded grants to schools to help restock their bookshelves.
As New Orleans Saints Drew Brees said in a Sept. 21st Times-Picayune article, "It’s important just to show that the city is very much alive and people are excited to be here — and there’s no doubt in their minds that the city’s going to come back better than ever. I think that’s huge for people to see that, see the atmosphere, and say, ‘Hey, that place is alive.’ I think it’s just even more motivation and a reason for people to bring back tourism and come down here and spend money, because it’s such a special space."