This year SHRM 17 will take place in New Orleans from June 18 to 21. Although you’re no doubt planning your trip for the maximum professional development and benefit, you should- no, you must also take some time to see the beautiful city which is hosting the conference. Even though your days will be busy learning new skills and some of your evenings will be booked up with HR industry parties, that doesn’t mean you have time to do a little tourist stuff on the side. But because you will be so busy, things like museums and aquariums probably aren’t in the cards.
With that in mind I’ve selected a few things to do during your stay in New Orleans that will get you outside, appreciating the city and the beautiful weather, and not thinking about SHRM recertification credits.
I’ve also included some food and drink recommendations because no matter how busy you are at the conference this year, everyone needs to eat — why not spend mealtime enjoying some of the best the city has to offer?
Things to Do and See
New Orleans was founded in 1718 on the French Mississippi Company. Thanks to its location, it has been a historically significant centre of trade and travel for centuries, stretching back though the colonial and pre-colonial era. These days, tourists flock to the city for Mardi Gras, jazz and food food food, but it’s a mistake to skip out on the city’s rich history. Because you’ll have a short window for tourism during SHRM I recommend skipping the bayou and river boat tours, as well as most of the museums — instead, opt for a self-guided walking tour that you can fit in and around your sessions and party. Ghost tours take place nightly (and sometimes daily) and are a fun way to get a quick capsule history of the city outside of regular tourism hours.
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Although you won’t have time to check out every interesting nook and cranny in the city, the French Quarter is covenant because it’s home to several of the city’s best restaurants and some of it’s most interesting historical sites. It’s also conveniently small and walkable, perfect for a short architectural tour — the Quarter blends Spanish, French, Creole and American styles — after the conference grind. Jackson Square and Woldenberg Park, on the waterfront, are perfect spots to enjoy a quiet outdoor breakfast or an after dinner walk (which you’ll need after spending so many hours sitting at SHRM).
When you’re trying to fit some tourism into a business trip many things quickly become skippable, especially attractions that might add, rather than subtract, from the tension that comes from long days at a conference. For me, this has usually meant things that are exciting as opposed to relaxing — in my experience exciting is perfect for a vacation but a poor fit for business travel. Instead I prefer low key tourism, things that fit into my schedule naturally, without my having to rearrange things. That said, I consider music to be part of the latter category, especially jazz, which doesn’t require your dressing up or even having the energy to dance. It just requires your sincere attention and enjoyment. It is one New Orleans’ unmissable attractions, but not one that’s limited to a specific time or space. Take some time to enjoy a jazz show one night, or at the very least to watch some buskers — the city has one of the strongest jazz scenes in North America and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Things to Eat and Drink
Coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde
So you need breakfast AND you want to stake out some time to explore the French Quarter. Coffee (or juice) and beignets at Cafe du Monde is the perfect solution. The cafe, which has since grown into a chain, was established in 1862. The menu has been strictly coffee, cafe au lait, chicory, juice and beignets since. It is a traditional French style cafe — no boring American drip coffee or Starbucks-style frappamilkshakes here. They did eventually concede to changing food trends in the 80s — slightly — adding iced coffee and soft drinks, but really, don’t be that guy. Cafe du Monde is now a chain which includes several locations in the city but I think it’s worth taking the time out to visit its original location in the Quarter. Their beignets are good no matter where you get them, but there’s something special about being in that original building, enjoying donuts that generations of New Orleans residents and tourists have enjoyed. And once you’ve got them, head out into the quarter to watch it wake up.
The Sazerac is a New Orleans invention, and apparently the world’s first branded cocktail. It’s a (delicious) cognac — originally Sazerac cognac — or whiskey cocktail which also includes absinthe, bitters, and sugar, and while some claim the drink’s origins stretch back into pre-New Orleans history, it was officially created (or formalized) as the Sazerac by Sewell T. Taylor in 1850. It’s not the only popular New Orleans cocktail but it is the only one reminds me of the city, no matter where I order it. If you’re a drinker, make sure to drink at least one Sazerac when you’re in New Orleans for SHRM!
Jambalaya or Gumbo
If you can make it fit into your schedule you should definitely experience a New Orleans culinary tour. There are several available, some that take you all over the city and others give you a sampling of traditional New Orleans cuisine in one meal. But if that’s not in the cards you should at least treat yourself to one good post-conference meal and try either (or both!) jambalaya or gumbo. They’re both hearty dishes, jambalaya containing smoked sausage and shrimp, crawfish or pork, as well as a veritable bushel of vegetables and rice, gumbo being a similarly robust stew served over white rice, so they’re ideal for replenishing your energy after a long day of networking and learning. They’re also delicious and easily modified for food allergies and preferences — so don’t let your dietary restrictions stop you from trying some authentic New Orleans cuisine!
So that’s it, my tips for slipping a little history and culture into your SHRM 17 experience. You can find my tips for a less stressful, more productive conference here, and Jessica’s SHRM party guide here. Put all of our expert advice together and I promise you’ll have a fun and rewarding, albeit whirlwind, experience at the conference.