Workshops Designed to Help Local and Diverse Businesses Find Success in Tourism & Hospitality Industry

by Joyce Kyles

Recognizing that Black-owned businesses are often left out of the $8 billion tourism industry, the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network (NOMTN) and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) developed a creative quarterly workshop series with an intentional  purpose—to maximize opportunities for local and diverse businesses in this lucrative and thriving industry . 

The “In It to Win It” workshop series is tailored to specific areas of interest. Attendees are provided real-time news and information regarding procurement opportunities as well as  strategies and best practices to improve their businesses. The workshops feature some of the most dynamic and successful experts in their respective industries. 

Jeremy Cooker, NOTMC

“Our corporation hosts open community board meetings, and what we consistently heard from community activists and local business owners was that they weren’t participating in the opportunities to make money in the industry,” says Jeremy Cooker, president of Marketing and Special Projects for NOTMC. 

After hearing the outcry, NOTMC took several steps to address the issue, including consulting with Deborah Elam, retired president of the GE Foundation and native New Orleanian, for guidance in reaching out to small and diverse business owners. Collaborating with New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network, they developed the “In It to Win it” is series.

Essence Banks, NOMTN

“We’re committed to the growth potential of local and diverse businesses,” said Essence Banks, executive director of NOMTN. She is thrilled about the series. 

The most recent workshop in February focused on helping attendees tap into the city’s booming festival economy. Panelist included EJ Encalarde, COO and president of Festival Productions Inc., and Cleveland Spears, CEO of The Spears Group and founder of the National Fried Chicken Festival. It was moderated by LBJ, co-host of WGNO’s News with a Twist. 

“Attendees are learning how to tap into over 135 licensed festivals which are huge economic drivers,” says Cooker. “How do I, as a local and diverse business owner, get to bid for my company to work with these other entities? How can I grow my small festival? They are connecting with well respected leaders in the field and with individuals looking for the same answers they are seeking.”

Cooker is also enthusiastic about the partnership and the possibilities it provides to help more businesses grow. 

NOTMC solidified its commitment to helping local businesses through its collaborative efforts with NOMTN as well as its partnership with McKenna Publishing Company on the 2018 edition of Welcome magazine. Published annually for more than two decades, Welcome’s mission has been to direct visitors to the city to Black-owned restaurants, attractions and other hospitality and tourism-related businesses—entities that have been historically left out of the tourism boom.

“Because of the genuine and well-meaning partnership of key players who shared a vision of small and Black-owned businesses benefiting from the tourism economy, there was a noticeable difference last summer,” says Beverly McKenna, co-founder and publisher of The New Orleans Tribune, Welcome and The New Orleans BlackBook. “We saw more visitors venturing outside of the CBD and French Quarter. We saw more visitors determined and dedicated to spending their dollars with small, local and more specifically, with Black-owned businesses. And we are excited that our collaboration with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.,                                                                 helped to increase the distribution and marketing of Welcome, was a part of that effort. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, but we have seen real progress. I think coming together with purpose shows what can happen.”

Shortly after the 2018 Essence Festival, a mini focus group of about 20 business owners was conducted  to share feedback regarding their experiences during that event. Their thoughts gave Banks and Cooker invaluable insight and helped to lay the foundation for the ‘In It to Win It’ workshop series. 

“Some (businesses) did really well,” says Cooker, who credits Banks with naming the series. “Some were overwhelmed.”

And that was the feedback they wanted. 

Banks says, “Being able to hear what their concerns were and how to create ways to bridge the gap going forward was key. Again, we are being very intentional. We want to provide the proper tools and information to increase knowledge, revenue and overall best business practices for local businesses so they may reap the benefits of the tourism and hospitality economy.”  

In addition to useful information, the free workshop series provides meaningful interacting and exchange. 

“The business to business networking at the end of the sessions have been a great way for businesses to connect, learn from one another, and explore ways to work together,” says Banks. 

NOMTN’s mission is to identify and promote the cultural diversity in the city. They also focus to increase leadership, career, and business opportunities at all levels of the hospitality industry. They have been around since 1990, and they continue to encourage and support multicultural visitation for New Orleans by partnering with local businesses and those in the tourism industry. 

Cooker points out that in planning the workshops, organizers also deliberately patronize the very small and diverse businesses targeted by the series. For example, catering for workshops have been provided by local Black-owned businesses. And the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center has served as the host venue for the workshops to date.

“We want every workshop to follow to be meaningful and thoughtful. We have to make sure the content in this series is truly helpful.” 

The first workshop, held in November, 2018, featured Marissa Wilson, general manager at Blavity’s Travel Noire, and Whitney Mitchell, the director of strategy at FSC Interactive. The workshop focused on helping attendees learn and effectively use social media strategies to promote their businesses. It was moderated by Camille Whitworth, president and CEO of Media By Design and owner of Victory Bar and the Drink Lab of New Orleans. 

The next installment of the “In It to Win It” series is slated for May. The partners are currently finalizing their topic of discussion and will announce complete details within the next few weeks.

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