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The Shutdown of New Orleans' Economic Engine -- its Convention and
 Tourism Business --  Has Implications Nationally
 for Other Convention Cities
By Kathy Bergen, Chicago Tribune
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 1, 2005 - The shutdown of New Orleans' economic engine -- its convention and tourism business -- has implications nationally for other convention cities, including Chicago.

New Orleans ranks among the country's top five or six convention centers. So events planners nationally have been hitting the phones, blasting emails, and negotiating with hotels in attempts to relocate or reschedule meetings and conventions.

"Every convention that is booked for the next 60 days has been notified between yesterday and today that we will assist them in relocating to another city or rescheduling in New Orleans at a later date," said Kitty Ratcliffe, executive vice president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Her bureau is working with counterparts in such cities as Dallas, San Antonio, Memphis and Orlando to see if they can swap trade show dates.

The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau has been getting calls from events planners looking for alternate sites, said Bill Utter, acting chief executive officer. But it is taking no action until it gets direction from the New Orleans bureau, he said.

"We absolutely are standing read to help them in any way we can," Utter said.

Many long planned conventions are in limbo.

For example, the North American Building Materials Distribution Association was planning to hold its annual convention Nov. 11-12 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. But the group finally had to reconsider plans it had in place since 2002.

"As the day went on, it was worse and worse," Kevin Gammonley, executive director of the association, which is managed by Chicago-based SmithBucklin Corp.

"We are making sure we quietly remember the enormity of what has happened to the people of New Orleans," said Lise Puckorius, senior vice president at SmithBucklin, which is looking to reschedule or relocate two other events for its clients.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists, based in Park Ridge, was planning to hold its 2005 annual meeting, a celebration of its centennial, at New Orlean's Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Oct. 22-26. The event was expected to draw 285 exhibitors and 16,000 attendees.

"We were planning a wonderful celebration in a historic city which happens to be the hometown of our incoming president," said Gina Steiner, a spokeswoman.

"It was going to be really special and festive," she said, including a black-tie gala for 1,500.

Now the group is scrambling to find an alternate site, with the realization it may have to scale back plans, or even consider cancellation.

More than 10 million visitors came to New Orleans last year, including 524,000 who attended events at its Morial Center.

"We know many of the hotels are virtually intact, with minor damage," said Ratcliffe. "But until the city services are up and running . . . it doesn't matter if the hotels are functional."

Ratcliffe explained her bureau's strategy on swapping convention dates with other cities. "If a group is supposed to be in New Orleans this fall, and in Dallas in '06, '07 or '08, we're seeing if they can switch years with us," she said.

"We'll bounce back from this, and be up and running as soon as possible," Ratcliffe said.

One hotel that has been featured prominently in news coverage is the Hyatt Regency. The hurricane blew out windows on the north side of the building, causing considerable window and water damage to some rooms.

Hyatt has cancelled all business at the hotel through Nov. 15, and is working with groups to help them relocate to other Hyatts, said Katie Meyer, a spokeswoman for Global Hyatt Corp.


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