There are still problems, of course. And there is a stigma that may take years — decades — to erase. But every day, New Orleans and the other Mid-South communities damaged by Hurricane Katrina are growing stronger.

Events big and small are starting to return. New Orleans' annual Mardi Gras is back on track, attracting a crowd of 750,000. The city hosted the 2008 NBA All-Star Game — and 50,000 attendees — as well as the Allstate BCS National Championship and the Allstate Sugar Bowl, both at the Superdome. Of even higher interest to meeting planners, a 20,000-plus person citywide convention was successfully executed.

More than two dozen meetings of more than 3,000 attendees are scheduled for New Orleans in 2008. Corporations, such as Whirlpool, have been drawn by the wealth of “voluntourism” opportunities.

In the past two years, more than $400 million has been spent on hotel renovations in the metro New Orleans area.

In Alabama, $194 million in hotel building projects have been completed or announced for Birmingham in 2008. When all projects reach completion, more than 1,300 guest rooms will be added to the downtown inventory.

Birmingham is not alone in its infrastructure improvements. In Montgomery, public and private investors have contributed $1.1 billion toward the city's “Riverfront Renaissance” project.

Facilities Update

Alabama

  • Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation including new interior and exterior paint and new carpet throughout the building.

  • A 155-room Hampton Inn is being built in downtown Mobile, with completion set for late fall.

  • In Mobile, a new Hilton Garden Inn with 101 rooms and a 1,204-square-foot meeting room opened in May.

  • Battle House Hotel reopened in May 2007 after a $200 million restoration. It has 238 guest rooms and 28,000 square feet of flexible event space. Its new spa is scheduled to open in this fall.

  • Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown Mobile Bay completed a $54 million renovation. It is connected to the convention center via skywalk and features 374 rooms and 46,000 square feet of flexible event space.

  • Holiday Inn Historic Downtown Mobile completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. It has 203 guest rooms with panoramic views of downtown Mobile and Mobile Bay and features 11,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • In Birmingham, the Tutwiler Hotel, Hotel Highland, Doubletree Hotel, and Sheraton Birmingham are undergoing renovations.

  • The new Highland Conference Center in Birmingham is next to the new Hotel Highland, a boutique hotel in historic Five Points South. The center offers the 4,000-square-foot Bistro Room; the 3,915-square-foot Vulcan Room; and the 1,000-square-foot Magic City Room.

  • The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex and adjacent Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, Alabama's largest convention and meetings facility, is nearing completion of $39 million in renovations.

  • At Sheraton Birmingham, across from the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, more than half of the 757 rooms have been remodeled.

  • The Montgomery Renaissance Hotel & Spa at the Montgomery Convention Center opened in February. The 347-room, four-star hotel cost $180 million and features 112,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and the 73,000-square-foot Montgomery Convention Center. It also features an 8,000-square-foot spa with a fitness center, pool, and salon. The adjacent Montgomery Performing Arts Centre features 1,800 seats.

  • Within walking distance of the Montgomery Convention Center, the reflagged Best Western (formerly The Madison Hotel) completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, including all 170 guest rooms and meeting rooms. The property offers more than 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The Dothan Convention Center opened in January with seating for more than 2,500 people. It features an auditorium with a stage, balcony, and retractable bleachers; four breakout rooms; an outdoor patio; and a full catering kitchen.

  • Westin opened its first hotel in Alabama in Huntsville in April. The 210-room Westin Huntsville is part of Bridge Street Town Centre, a mixed-use development. The Westin has a 7,972-square-foot ballroom and a 792-square-foot boardroom.

  • Riverview Plaza Hotel in Mobile became Renaissance Riverview Plaza in late 2007 after a $74 million renovation. The hotel features 375 rooms and 32,000 square feet of meeting space, and is connected to the Mobile Convention Center via skywalks.

  • Just outside Montgomery, the Marriott Prattville Hotel & Conference Center at Capitol Hill added an 8,000-square-foot ballroom in 2007, bringing total meeting space to 15,000 square feet.

  • The Hotel at Auburn University will complete an $11 million renovation this summer of each of the 247 guest rooms and suites.

  • Kentucky

    Hyatt Place Lexington is a new 127-room hotel with three meeting rooms that can accommodate up to a total of 75 people.

  • The $1.7 million, 7,000 square foot, full-service spa at Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington opened in May 2007. It is the first and only hotel with a full-service spa in Lexington.

  • Louisiana

    The multipurpose Shreveport Convention Center, the second-largest convention center in Louisiana, is attached to the 313-room Hilton Shreveport and offers more than 350,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Clarion Hotel in Shreveport completed a $6.5 million remodel of its 267 rooms. It has 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Holiday Inn Financial Plaza in Shreveport is undergoing a $4.5 million renovation of its 225 guest rooms. The hotel has 3,600 square feet of meeting space.

  • Holiday Inn Downtown Shreveport has renovated its 189 guest rooms and four banquet rooms.

  • The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans has completed $60 million in renovations.

  • Louisiana's first condominium hotel, the 131-room Royal Cosmopolitan, New Orleans, will be the first new hotel project to break ground in the city since 2005. Developers are spending $50 million to renovate the 100-year-old Astor Hotel building at 121-25 Royal St.

  • The Hilton New Orleans Riverside received $66 million for improvements designed to complement the city's renaissance and revitalize the 30-year-old Southeastern flagship of Hilton Hotels Corp. Renovations will continue through 2008.

  • The Marriott New Orleans Hotel is undergoing a $38 million renovation. A portion was completed in October, with the unveiling of the hotel's $6.5 million lobby and restaurant.

  • The 500-room Fairmont New Orleans will soon undergo $100 million in refurbishments.

  • The 527-room Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, features a renovated 25,000-square-foot spa; a new restaurant named Mélange; and 35,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel completed a $105 million renovation in 2006.

  • Mississippi

    Opened in 2007, the Thad Cochran Center on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg has 237,000 square feet of meeting space that can accommodate functions for 2,000 or more attendees.

  • The Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg has more than 68,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

  • The Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi is spending $68 million to increase meeting space from 180,000 square feet to 350,000 square feet. The expanded convention center is expected to open in October 2009.

  • Courtyard Marriott-Gulfport Beachfront opened in May. Converted from the Gulfport Beachfront Hotel, the property has 148 new rooms and 6,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 4,048-square-foot ballroom.

  • Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport completed a $50 million terminal expansion in February. Two on-site hotels, Hilton Garden Inn Hotel (135 rooms) and Residence Inn by Marriott (108 rooms), will open by July.

Tennessee

  • Nashville — Music City — is in the pre-development stage for a new, approximately 1.2 million square foot convention center in downtown Nashville. The facility would have two 1,000-car parking garages and a hotel.

  • In Nashville, the Holiday Inn & Suites' $10 million renovation will include meetings spaces

  • Renaissance Nashville completed renovations, as did the Union Station Hotel

  • Also in Nashville, a new 250-room Hotel Hutton with 21,500 square feet to house a conference center, meeting facilities, and restaurant is being created, with completion planned for winter 2008.

  • Hotel Palomar has a planned 200 rooms within the 70-story Signature Tower.

  • Two more office conversions in Nashville will result in a 139-room Hotel Indigo and a second hotel that will be 110 rooms. Both are planned for completion in winter 2008.

  • InterContinental Hotel and Resorts will bring 285 rooms, nearly 18,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 10,750-square-foot ballroom to the West End Summit project in Nashville in 2010.

  • The new Memphis Marriott Downtown offers more than 7,900 square feet of renovated meeting and banquet space.

  • A new 131-room Courtyard Marriott Downtown will be built in Memphis.

  • The 203-room Westin Beale Street Hotel, Memphis, has 6,768 square feet of meeting space in nine rooms.

  • Plans are in the works in Memphis to transform the Chisca Hotel into a 150-room Hilton Garden Inn and to construct a new 110-unit Hilton Homewood Suites on surrounding property as well. The two hotels are part of an $80 million plan.

  • Gatlinburg Convention Center has expanded to nearly 148,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and exhibit space.

  • The 208-room Holiday Inn Pigeon Forge is adding an 8,500-square-foot conference center, bringing the property's total banquet, meeting, and conference space to 11,500 square feet.

  • West virginia

    Cliffside Motel in Harpers Ferry has become the 101-room Quality Cliffside Inn and Conference Center Inn with major renovations complete.

  • Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry is closed until 2010 for renovations.

  • Waterfront Event Center, a 25,000-square-foot, $22 million facility in Morgantown, is scheduled to be complete in December 2009.

  • Beckley Raleigh County Convention Center is undergoing a $1.5 million upgrade with a new 4,800-square-foot conference facility.

  • Microtel Inn & Suites, Beckley's newest hotel property, offers 64 rooms. Days Inn completely remodeled its 119 guest rooms. Holiday Inn & Suites opened in June 2007 and has 110 rooms and suites plus 1,160 square feet of meeting space.

  • Holiday Inn Martinsburg has added three breakout rooms for a total of nine meeting rooms with a total of 7,500 square feet of meeting space.

  • Trip Tips

    The Civil Rights audio tour, available at the Montgomery Area Visitor Center, provides a self-guided walking or driving tour of Montgomery's Civil Rights sites.

  • Alabama Shake-speare Festival's Shakespeare Garden features plants and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. It is available for receptions and events. www.blountculturalpark.org

  • Elvis Presley got his start on the Louisiana Hayride, a live radio show broadcast from Shreveport's Municipal Audi-torium. Today there is a Stage of Stars Museum, which highlights Elvis and many other music legends who performed in the Hayride.

  • With Memphis only 20 minutes from Tunica, Miss., a day trip to Elvis' Graceland or a night out on Beale Street is a great addition to any itinerary.

Ask The CVB

Alabama

Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau
(866) 880-8747
www.aotourism.com

Greater Birmingham CVB
(800) 458-8085
www.inbirmingham.org

Huntsville/Madison County CVB
(800) 843-0468
www.huntsville.org

Jackson County Tourism
(800) 259-5508
www.jacksoncountychamber.com

Mobile Bay CVB
(800) 5-MOBILE
www.mobilebay.org

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB
(334) 261-1100
visitingmontgomery.com

Kentucky

Lexington CVB
(859) 233-1221
www.visitlex.com

Louisville CVB
(502) 584-2121
www.gotolouisville.com

Northern Kentucky CVB
(859) 655-4163
www.nkycvb.com

Louisiana

Baton Rouge Area CVB
(800) LA ROUGE
www.visitbatonrouge.com

New Orleans Metro. CVB
(800) 672-6124
www.neworleanscvb.com

Shreveport-Bossier Conv. & Tourist Bureau
(800) 551-8682
shreveport-bossier.com

Southwest Louisiana CVB
(800) 456-7952
www.visitlakecharles.org

Mississippi

Visit Hattiesburg
(866) 4HATTIE
www.visithattie.com

Jackson CVB
(800) 354-7695
www.visitjackson.com

Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB
(888) 467-4853
www.gulfcoast.org

Tunica CVB
(888) 4-TUNICA
www.tunicamiss.com

Tennessee

Chattanooga Area CVB
(800) 322-3344
www.chattanoogafun.com

Gatlinburg Dept. of Tourism and Conv. Center
(800) 343-1475
gatlinburg-tennessee.com

Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp.
(865) 523-7263
www.Knoxville.org

Memphis CVB
(901) 543-5300
www.memphistravel.com

Nashville CVB
(800) 657-6910
www.visitmusiccity.com

Pigeon Forge Dept. of Tourism
(865) 453-8574
www.mypigeonforge.com

W. Virginia

Charleston CVB
(800) 733-5469
www.charlestonwv.com

Greenbrier County CVB
(800) 388-2068
www.greenbrierwv.com

Martinsburg-Berkeley County CVB
(304) 264-8801
www.travelwv.com

Greater Morgantown CVB
(800) 458-7373
www.tourmorgantown.com

Special Venues

  • The Bottling Co. in Hattiesburg, Miss., is a music warehouse and restaurant by trade, but is often converted into a vibrant meeting and reception space by request. This facility is in an original Coca-Cola bottling building and has indoor balconies, a large stage, and breakout rooms. www.thebottlingco.com

  • With four Mississippi River cruises daily, the Tunica Queen is a classicriverboat that can hold up to 400 passengers for dinner or sightseeing cruises. It is available for private functions. www.tunicaqueen.com

  • The Civil Rights Memorial and Center in Montgomery honors those who died during the civil rights movement and serves as a vehicle for education and reflection on the struggle for equality. www.splcenter.org/.crm/memorial.jsp

  • Visitors to Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery are able to put themselves in the place of the woman who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. http://montgomery/troy.edu/rosaparks/museum

  • Battleship USS Alabama, on Mobile Bay, Ala., is a location for unforgettable events. The Fantail can host up to 500 people. The Wardroom provides indoor accommodations for up to 150 people. Groups of up to 1,200 can dine among historic warplanes in the 36,000-square-foot Aircraft Pavilion. www.ussalabama.com

  • Take a driving tour of the 2-million-square-foot Hyundai manufacturing plant in Montgomery that includes a two-mile test track and an engine shop. www.hmmausa.com