The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans will host its first major event beginning Nov. 12 with the return of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual convention, the city’s largest convention since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The convention – the largest international gathering of ophthalmologists – is expected to attract up to 10,000 attendees for four days of classes, scientific sessions and networking events, according to the convention center’s vice president of sales and marketing. , Tim Hemphill.
Although attendance marks a drop from the initial expectation of 20,000 attendees, it will still be the largest conference since the 9,000-person Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association convention held in March 2020.
The convention center has taken a major hit since COVID-19 effectively shut down the city. From the start of 2021 through July alone, the convention center suffered losses of more than $31 million.
Hurricane Ida, combined with the increase in cases brought on by the delta variant, compounded the facility’s financial difficulties, causing the cancellation of 11 of the 34 events scheduled from September through the end of the year. The storm also caused over $1 million in damage to their facilities.
However, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s decision in late October to lift the mask mandate and his signals that the carnival is likely open next year could breathe new life into the convention center and adjacent industries, including hotels, shops and restaurants.
The convention center will leave mask and vaccination mandates to each individual convention, but it currently hosts a conference from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, which has chosen to implement both. The convention center will ensure staff also comply with each event, officials said.
Hemphill said it’s still a little too early to predict whether there will be a surge in conventions returning to New Orleans next year, but he projected one of the biggest conferences in the city – the American Geophysical Union, to be held December 13-17 – will exceed initial expectations of 20,000 attendees.
Hemphill also said initial estimates of 30% fewer people attending conventions in 2022 appear to be shrinking by the day.