NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For the first time in nearly a year, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is opening its doors for something not related to natural disasters or the pandemic.
There are signs of hope setting up in the halls of the Convention Center. Not only in the state’s first federally funded mass vaccination site but also in a return to regular business in Hall G.
The Convention Center is hosting its first trade show of the year this week.
“This is the first event like this that we’ve had in over 320 days,” said Michael Sawaya, the President of the Convention Center.
Sawaya’s 400 employees have been hard at work providing hurricane and pandemic relief.
“Just the fact that they have the ability to welcome people back into our building and to host an event, you can see the smiles on their faces even through the masks,” Sawaya said about his employees.
Sawaya says the Convention Center was one of the first facilities in the country to meet the standards of the Global Star Alliance accreditation.
“We exceeded many of those, you know, for cleaning beforehand for sanitizing areas,” Sawaya said. “We have an industrial hygienist on board, who really focuses on making sure services are taken care of and that we have protocols in place to make sure that we’re welcoming people into a very safe environment.”
That’s how the HQ Trade Show, which focuses on CBD and other alternative health products, is able to set up 50 booths through Wednesday night.
“Everybody’s really accommodating and everybody’s excited that we’re here, we’re excited that we’re here, we couldn’t be happier,” Mike Sessoms, who’s in charge of the event, said.
Sessoms says they’re excited to get back to work, looking to have around 650 people pass through, a tall order compared to their more one-on-one private events.
“Launching a new convention hall-style booth trade show in the middle of the pandemic as a first show is has it definitely has its challenges, but we’re pulling it off and everybody’s happy to be doing it,” Sessoms said.
With COVID protocols at every turn, Sawaya says this smaller show will help them practice for when larger conventions come back, a much-needed shot of adrenaline to New Orleans’ tourism-driven heart.
“It’s the engine that makes all that work if you think about it, business related to the convention center, it’s about 25-percent of the visitors that come into New Orleans,” Sawaya said. “So, it’s a very significant part of our economic and a very significant part of the industry here for tourism.”
Sawaya says they are working closely with the Fire Marshal and City’s Health Department to make sure they can host larger-scale conventions.
Depending on the city’s numbers as well as vaccine distribution, he says the convention center is looking at a very busy mid-summer to early fall.
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