New Orleans’ famous tagline Laissez les bon temps rouler ain’t just whistling Dixie. The phrase meaning “Let the good times roll” is intrinsic to this magical city, and it always revolves around cool music and spectacular food.
In July, about 400 Starwood Hotels executives and their clients met in New Orleans for Starwood’s annual Rendezvous sales networking event. We were all gathered in the lobby of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel during “Social Hour,” when people gather after their meeting sessions to try out premium wines from around the world.
Suddenly, a 6-piece brass band started belting out old Louisiana jazz from the mezzanine balcony. The musicians kept playing as they descended the escalator and walked around the group before leading everyone out to Canal Street.
Police had stopped traffic. A high school band, carnival clowns, jesters, stilt walkers and flapper girls joined us as we began our “Second Line” parade up Canal Street.
Locals smiled and waved as our giant procession moved down Chartres Street into the Quarter. No one knew where we were going but we were sure having a blast going there. Then we arrived at Drago’s vintage fire engine food truck parked in front of W New Orleans-French Quarter, with two guys roasting big juicy oysters out of the back.
That is how people rouler in New Orleans!
“The parade is something we do on a regular basis, and when people see the police lights and hear the jazz music, their jaws drop and their eyes pop open because it’s such a unique event,” says Jeff O’Hara, CMP/DMCP, president of AlliedPRA New Orleans, who crafted the evening’s festivities. “I’ve talked to people 10 years later and they’ll say to me, ‘I don’t remember the meeting, but I loved that parade.’”
A lot of logistics, planning and permitting goes into setting up the parade, but O’Hara says the city is really helpful with these events. Shutting down Chartres Street, meanwhile, requires more effort on the DMC side, because O’Hara also needs permission from the businesses on the street.
Other groups have hosted similar outdoor F&B events on the banks of the Mississippi River just a couple blocks from the Sheraton. Or, they’ll parade together through the Quarter for a dine-around with people peeling away as they pass restaurants like Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and Broussard’s, etc.
FRENCH QUARTER CONNECTION
In the center of the 97-room W New Orleans-French Quarter, there’s a restored Spanish courtyard with a pool, dedicated bar/event space and two levels for 250 pax. Visiting chefs from W hotels around the world were manning various cooking stations, so we had a ton of fun mixing menus.
During the evening, W French Quarter opened up a few suites for viewing. To help lure everyone to the rooms, professional tarot card mystics set up tables for “personal readings,” which actually turned out to be really popular. The newly renovated rooms have a warm blue/gold palette with jazz or tarot-themed murals on the walls. Working windows open out to either the Quarter or pretty courtyard.
Just off the lobby, SoBou was named one of the top 10 new restaurants last year by Esquire. It’s part of the legendary local Commander’s family of restaurants, with a chic pharmacy theme in one half and a Creole-style brick saloon in the other. The crispy alligator and oyster tacos with pineapple ceviche, mirliton and Cajun ghost pepper caviar were a hit, especially paired with Miss Abigail’s punch.
As a result of all that, there was great movement between Chartres Street, SoBou, the courtyard and the upstairs/downstairs courtyard bars. Everyone kept bumping into new people while trying the different types of creative food, giving everyone lots to talk about and share. The night turned out to be one of the best F&B events for this editor, ever.
Once a year, Starwood brings together hotel reps, vendors and buyers from around the globe for its Rendezvous event. This year, the 1,100-room Sheraton New Orleans Hotel was the host venue, looking fresh following the completion this year of a $50 million renovation.
A total of 54 meeting and function rooms offer over 105,000 sf of space for extra large groups. We had a private lunch up at the Club Level Room with amazing views of the city. Lunch consisted of a delicious skillet trio of smoked salmon, slow cooked short ribs and blackened drum fish.
Every year at Rendezvous, CEO Frits van Paasschen’s presentation is always a highlight because he’s one of the most highly respected hotel guys in the business. During his 25-minute speech, van Paasschen discussed the future of travel and how Starwood is shaping those trends.
“We’re seeing change at a rate that’s unprecedented in the history of humanity,” he said. “Behind that change are two pretty much unstoppable forces: Rising wealth and greater global connectivity through technology.”
Van Paasschen said the global middle class has doubled in the past 20 years. In the next 20, that will jump another 150%, and everyone wants more and more personalized service.
“If you want to have the world’s best brands, which we do, then we know we’re not successful unless our guests are happy and having their expectations met and exceeded,” added van Paasschen. “And that expectation today, driven by technology, is personalization.”
He said Starwood is in good shape to create personalized group experiences because it operates nine brands with clearly delineated market demographics, including the luxury segment with W Hotels, Luxury Collection and St. Regis. And, planners can further customize their group programs with Starwood’s industry-leading apps and inhouse technology, both during meetings and pre/post.
“We are united by a simple, single belief,” van Paasschen summed up. “People want a better way to experience the world, and it’s our job to give them that better way.”
We’ve been saying that at Prevue for years.