WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com
The American Library Association is holding its annual convention in New Orleans, and being the first big convention to be held in New Orleans, all eyes in the tourism (political and otherwise) industry are watching to see how New Orleans' infrastrucure is holding up. The verdict: mostly good, but some issues still needing work: Kevin Cleary of Cleveland said the hotel staff "apologized for (the service) upfront." "But it wasn't that bad," said Cleary, an exhibitor for Collegiate Directories Inc. "It's New Orleans. You expect a leisurely pace."
Participants and observers in town for the first major convention in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina offered mostly praise for the hospitality industry's handling of the event, but the limited number of flights into the city has emerged as an issue. More than 18,000 members of the American Library Association are in town for a conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention
Center. It began Thursday and ends Wednesday. It is the first major event to test the city's convention industry, and the reaction to it will go a long way toward preserving or diminishing New Orleans' reputation as a premier convention destination.
Other conventioneers said they noticed that some operations were short-staffed, but they were not inconvenienced. "It's been great," said Dan Donovan, who traveled with his librarian wife from Raleigh, N.C. The hotel "is shorthanded, but everybody's doing the best they can. It
seems like people don't mind waiting."
However, not everything has gone smoothly. The lower number of flights into Louis Armstrong International Airport has emerged as an issue. The airport has about two-thirds of the 166 flights per day it had before Katrina.
"That is a problem," said Roz Kriener, a meeting planner with the National Association of Realtors' conventions and meetings department. Kriener is in town to observe the library convention in preparation for the Realtors convention in November, when at least 25,000 attendees are anticipated. Kriener, who has been telling members to book flights early, said the city desperately needs more direct flights to accommodate large groups. Otherwise, Kriener said, she was encouraged by what she saw and is confident New Orleans is capable once again of hosting a large conference. "Everything seems to be coming back to life," she said.
It's clear New Orleans essentially passed its first test, although it's also clear that the bar was not set too high. The larger Realtors convention in November will be an even bigger test. However I wonder if New Orleans will even still be in the competition by then. Let's see when the site visit gets scheduled. The longer it gets put off, the less likely New Orleans will stay in the competition to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Update: Some facts about the ALA convention: "The attendance was 11,605 registrants and 4704 vendors, for a total of 16,309—a little more than ten percent below the 18,344 figure for the Orlando conference in 2004 at the time".
Update 2: The site visit to New Orleans is reported to be scheduled for August.
Update 3: And from Chris Rose in the Times-Picayune:
I don't think I'm quite ready to climb to the top of the Superdome and scream "We're BACK, baby!" But as harbingers of recovery go, the American Library Association convention this weekend was a serious step in the right direction.And the bottom line?
I have probably covered 100 conventions in this building over the years and the difference in appearance between this one and all the others was . . . nothing.
They were here. They got their work done. They had a great time. And nobody got shot.
Kevin Cleary of Cleveland said the hotel staff "apologized for (the service) upfront." "But it wasn't that bad," said Cleary, an exhibitor for Collegiate Directories Inc. "It's New Orleans. You expect a leisurely pace."