Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tourism planners happy with Librarian convention

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

The biggest issue New Orleans has to overcome to even have a chance of getting the 2008 Democratic National Convention is to show that the infrastructure is in place. Well, business convention planners attending the recently completed American Library Convention at the New Orleans Convention Center thought things went very well:

As the biggest conference held post-Katrina, national meeting planners watched the city perform for the ALA the last week of June — 10 months after the storm — to see if it remained capable of providing a world-class experience for an estimated 17,000 visitors.

Lingering questions about service staff shortages, a dearth of taxicabs and airport shuttles, and crime in the Crescent City remained. Patti Shock, chairwoman of the tourism and convention administration at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said it’s one thing to convince a meeting planner to schedule an event but quite another to convince skittish members to attend.

“The images in my head are of the horrific things happening at the Convention Center — the reporter’s descriptions of the smell of death in the place. I would have a hard time walking into the Convention Center with those images in my head,” Shock said.


Deidre Ross, ALA director of conference services, said the media coverage wreaked havoc on the minds of her members. “People were nervous because of the stuff coming out of the media,” Ross said. “It was disgraceful. They always try to find the worst thing that happened and blow it up so our members thought all sorts of terrible things were going to happen to them.

“But the city was great. They immediately had an answer for any concerns and that was key. Because if they didn’t, our people would have been hysterical and no one would have come.”

The four-day ALA conference began June 24 and came off smoothly. “When we held the doors open and let them in building it was so emotional,” said Jill Alexander, Convention Center sales and marketing director. “We thanked everyone for coming and the attendees had tears in their eyes. They were so happy to be a part of everything.”

Ross said the ALA was concerned there wouldn’t be enough taxis to accommodate members but it turned out to be a non-issue. Staffing worries evaporated after the general service contractor said there was more than enough help. “We were last here in 2002 and there was no difference between now and then. I think New Orleans is back,” Ross said.

Sue Gourley, vice president of the National Realtors Association convention group, volunteered four staff members to work the ALA conference. The Realtors annual convention is scheduled Nov. 9-13 in New Orleans and Gourley wanted a behind-the-scenes look at operations. “We were very pleasantly surprised to hear that it all went very smoothly,” Gourley said. “The setups, the hotels and restaurants were all ready. In some ways it was smoother than it usually is.” Gourley expects a record 30,000 real estate agents to attend the New Orleans convention.

Brendan Lynch, senior associate editor with Meetings & Conventions magazine in Secaucus, N.J., traveled to New Orleans to gauge it as a premier convention destination. He said New Orleans aced the first post-K test of city infrastructure. “It passed with flying colors,” Lynch said. ... The Convention Center was in really good shape and some people said it looked better than before. Meeting planners out there are going to get that message.”


Not everyone remains convinced, however. Shock said librarians returned to New Orleans out of a strong sense of duty to help rebuild the city’s libraries.

“It’s not your typical group,” Shock said. “Most people are going to take a wait-and-see attitude because they’re afraid to risk their major fund-raising source for the whole year on a troubled city. You might be able to bring the meeting planner down there and do a site inspection and convince them all is well but you can’t do that for every single attendee.

Sounds like New Orleans made a major step forward here. The next test will be the site visit scheduled for August.