Slowly but steadily, meetings, conventions, and incentive events are returning to the Mid-South cities damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Nowhere is the improvement in business conditions more apparent than in the city that exemplifies the recovery: New Orleans.

“Since the resurgence of our convention business in 2006,” says Kelly Schulz, vice president of communications and publications, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, “we have proven time and time again that New Orleans is a viable and safe place to bring meetings. In addition to our longtime citywide association clients, corporate America is discovering New Orleans. Maritz Travel, Walt Disney Co., Whirlpool, Coca-Cola, Konica Minolta, Sherwin-Williams, and many others have been drawn to New Orleans for the wealth of community-service opportunities.”

In Point Clear, Ala., where the Mobile Bay Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa took a direct hit from the flood surge caused by Katrina, the facility is back to its full glory, thanks to an army of construction workers, landscapers, and resort employees. It completely reopened on November 1, 2006.

Trip Tips!

  • Baton Rouge boasts a semitropical climate with an average annual temperature of 68 degrees, making Louisiana's capital city ideal for outdoor meetings and activities.

  • Intel Corp. listed Baton Rouge No. 19 on its list of “Most Unwired Cities,“ ranking it among the most Wi-Fi friendly cities in the nation. All of downtown Baton Rouge is wireless Internet-ready.

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park. The park's primary visitor center, Sugarlands, is about 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge.

  • It can really heat up in the South during June through August, so keep plenty of bottled water on hand for your attendees.

The Mid-South/Facilities Update

Alabama

  • In 2005, the 30-year-old Montgomery Civic Center began a $29 million transformation that will result in 70,000 square feet of exhibit space and add a 1,800-seat performing arts center. The center will be reflagged the Montgomery Convention Center. Last September, ground was broken for the adjacent $150 million, 12-story, 347-room Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center that will include a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space. The convention center and hotel are slated to open in winter 2008.

  • The Resort Collection on Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile Bay opened its seventh property, Battle House Hotel, in May. An eighth hotel reopens in February 2008. Meanwhile, Riverview Plaza Hotel is undergoing a $32 million renovation that is scheduled to be complete this fall. Both the Battle House Hotel and Riverview Plaza Hotel will officially become Renaissance hotels after renovations are complete. The total cost of the Battle House projects is estimated at $220 million.

  • In Auburn/Opelika, the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National completed a $2 million renovation in January. The hotel has 114 rooms and 15 suites, as well as 13 meeting rooms with a total of 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail opened in August 2005 with 259 guest rooms, 11 suites, and 20,000 square feet of function space.

  • Birmingham's historic Tutwiler Hotel completed a complete overhaul in April. The renovation brought 162 refurbished rooms, including 68 suites, to downtown. The hotel is now affiliated with the Hampton Inn and Suites brand.

  • A $17 million upgrade, expected to be complete in late 2008, is under way at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The Sheraton adjoins the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

  • A 200-room luxury hotel is planned at the $70 million development at the site of the former Federal Reserve Building in Birmingham. The Lexington Collection Hotel will occupy the top eight floors of the 18-story office tower. The building, likely to be fully operational by or before 2009, will meet the U.S. Green Building Council's standards.

  • The Pickwick Hotel, one of Birmingham's historic lodging properties, is being renovated. The 63-room boutique hotel has been renamed The Hotel Highland@Five Points South. It reopened in April.

  • A $23 million Marriott Residence Inn will open in February 2008 in downtown Birmingham.

Kentucky

  • Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington opened the first full-service hotel spa in the city in May. The resort's meeting space has been increased to 21,000 square feet.

  • The Hyatt Regency in downtown Lexington changed hands and will begin a $16 million renovation during the fourth quarter of 2007, due for completion by 2009. The hotel will maintain normal operations during the project.

  • The $465 million Museum Plaza will add to Louisville's skyline, standing 62 stories along the Ohio River with 270,000 square feet of offices on 13 floors, a 250-room Westin Hotel, a ballroom, fitness center, spa, restaurant and bar/lounge, a 140,000-square-foot plaza, 20,000 square feet of restaurants and shops, 36,500 square feet of studios for the University of Louisville fine arts program, plus an 800-space parking garage. Ground will be broken September 27, with anticipated completion in 2010.

Louisiana

  • The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport recently welcomed ExpressJet Airlines to New Orleans. In December, the airport launched a campaign to clean and improve the environment at the facility.

  • With $60 million in renovations completed, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans is sporting a brand-new look and level of comfort. Renovations include new flooring and furnishings on all three levels. Morial offers a 4,000-seat auditorium, 12 exhibit halls, and 140 meeting rooms.

  • New hotel developments abound in New Orleans, including the opening of the Hilton St. Charles Hotel, which began accepting reservations May 1. All major hotels in New Orleans are open, with the Hyatt Hotel reopening in April 2008.

  • The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans reopened in December after a 15-month, $100 million renovation and restoration. The entire hotel was enhanced; its spa was expanded to 25,000 square feet and reopened in April.

  • Iberville Suites Hotel reopened in March with 230 rooms. The hotel is part of The Ritz-Carlton Hotels of New Orleans complex.

  • Astor Crowne Plaza, at the gateway to New Orleans' French Quarter, unveiled several renovations last October, including 3,500 square feet of new meeting space. The hotel has 30,000 square feet of function space.

  • The Heidelberg hotel and Capitol House in downtown Baton Rouge reopened last August as the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center. The historic hotel, which was constructed in 1927, has also added a spa, Atelier Rouge.

ASK and CVB

Alabama

Greater Birmingham CVB
(800) 458-8085
www.thediversecity.org
Total Hotel Tax: 14%

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce/ CVB
(800) 240-9452
www.visitingmontgomery.com
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5%

Kentucky

Lexington CVB
(859) 233-1221
www.visitlex.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13.42%

Northern Kentucky CVB
(859) 261-4677
www.nkycvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.24%

Louisiana

Baton Rouge Area CVB
(800) LA ROUGE
www.visitbatonrouge.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%

New Orleans
Metropolitan CVB

(504) 566-5011
www.neworleanscvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%

Tennessee

Memphis CVB
(901) 543-5300
www.memphistravel.com
Total Hotel Tax: 15.95%

Nashville CVB
(800) 657-6910
www.visitmusiccity.com
Total Hotel Tax: 14.25%

Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
(865) 453-8574
www.mypigeonforge.com
Total Hotel Tax: 11.75%