A Look Back

Highlights from the past year in New Orleans tourism
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. 

As we close another year in the tourism industry, we have much to be thankful for. Medical advancements and industry coordination have allowed for travel and large-scale events to return safely while we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In New Orleans in 2022, we have benefited from a series of major events, beginning at the new year with the Allstate Sugar Bowl, followed by Mardi Gras, NCAA Men’s Final Four, Zurich Classic, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest and Essence Festival of Culture, to not mention the regional festivals that made their returns. Here are a few highlights from the past year.

New Orleans achieved new accolades to add to a long list. It is now ranked No. 2 on the Top 10 U.S. Cities list for Travel + Leisure; No. 7 on the Top 50 U.S. Destinations list in Conference Direct Meeting Mentor Magazine; No. 3 destination in the U.S. for City Lovers in Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice; and was named the No. 2 happiest travel destination in North America by Club Med. The Windsor Court Hotel was voted the No. 1 hotel in New Orleans by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards and the Four Seasons New Orleans and Hotel Saint Vincent have been named to the Travel + Leisure It List 2022, the 100 Best New Hotels in the World.

The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center made major strides in environmentally sustainable operations by achieving its first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. According to the Convention Center, this designation makes it the largest LEED-certified project in Louisiana, the largest convention center project in the U.S. certified under LEED v4.1 Operations and Maintenance, and the first convention center in the world to be awarded initial certification under AnchorLEED v4.1 O+M.

“Earning LEED certification shows that our convention center is not just a major economic driver for the region but also a responsible environmental leader in the state,” said Michael J. Sawaya, Morial Convention Center president, in a statement. “Being recognized as a LEED Gold certified facility under the most current qualifying standards is confirmation that the many energy-saving investments, building upgrades, and green initiatives we have implemented are helping to reduce our carbon footprint while also making the facility better for our guests, employees and neighbors.”

Additionally, the convention center made major strides toward redevelopment upriver. In August, the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Board, which oversees the convention center, adopted a master development agreement with its development partner, River District Neighborhood Investors LLC, approving the terms for a mixed-use development of 39-acres of land adjacent to the convention center.

It also completed a new hotel market study by HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment to determine the viability of a proposed Convention Center Headquarters Hotel. According to the convention center, the study assumed the hotel would open in 2027 and concluded that a 600-room hotel is the most viable and would be an important addition to the lodging market. After the hotel’s stabilization in 2030, annually, it is expected to induce 96,000 net new room nights in the market, generate $122 million in new direct spending, support 1,100 new jobs and contribute over $14 million in new hotel, sales and property taxes.

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) continues to be an industry leader, this year receiving Best Airport in North America (5 to 15 million passengers per year) and Best Hygiene Measures in North America from the Airports Council International (ACI) World’s 2021 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) program. This is the second year in a row that MSY, which touts more than 4,000 airport workers, earned the Best Hygiene Measures in North America, an award created in response to COVID-19 safety measures introduced at airports worldwide.

“The people have spoken—the Louis Armstrong International Airport is the best in the business. This is yet another piece of recognition demonstrating our commitment to providing the best possible experience for our passengers,” said Judge Michael Bagneris, chair of the New Orleans Aviation Board, in a statement. “We will continue to make strides in ensuring the best first and last impression for residents and visitors of the Greater New Orleans Region.”

From the skies to the river, the cruise industry in New Orleans is seeing a resurgence. New Orleans is the sixth-largest cruise port in the U.S. and has reported it is back to pre-pandemic numbers.

At her State of the Port address in September, Port NOLA President and CEO Brandy Christian said, “Our cruise business is a vital economic engine that contributes to the local tourism and hospitality industry. Every time a cruise ship docks at our Erato or Julia Street terminals, it’s like a mini convention pulling into town. All this activity creates jobs and injects money into the local and state economy.”

Port NOLA is currently served by Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, as well as riverine lines American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company. Viking is scheduled to begin in January 2023.