Jordy Tollett of the
Greater Houston CVB
In early September, when Houston’s Mayor Bill
White declared that the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center
would be used in its entirety to house evacuees from Hurricane
Katrina, the general worldwide reaction was, “How kind of them.”
The meetings industry’s concern was, “How is Houston going to
handle the event cancellations and lost business?”
The answer: Without a hitch. Of the three major events already
scheduled, one was moved to a different facility (La Cumbre, a
trade show for travel professionals from the Americas, took place
at nearby Minute Maid Park over its contracted dates), and one was
postponed to next year (the biennial U.S.-Arab Economic Forum is
tentatively scheduled to come to Houston in June).
Only the Texas Association of School Boards and Administrators
Convention left town, taking with it about $10.7 million worth of
business originally slated for Houston. That event was held Oct.
28-30 at the Dallas Convention Center.
All other, smaller meetings and events either were accommodated
“Houston, in every way, benefited,” said John M. Keeling,
senior vice president of PKF Consulting, who is based in the city.
“When people realized the utter devastation of Katrina, nobody
wanted to stand in the way of the recovery. There was a real strong
spirit of cooperation across the board.
“While the Astrodome and the convention center certainly got the
lion’s share of publicity,” Keeling added, “there were thousands
more evacuees who came in and occupied the hotels and paid their
Indeed, even as recently as the middle of October, the city
still had 52,000 evacuees in 18,000 hotel rooms, according to Jordy
Tollett, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and
Visitors Bureau. Monday through Wednesday, he said, occupancy was
running at about 90 percent. “I don’t see that going away any time
soon,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Rita, which hit land on Sept. 24, hardly
had any effect on meetings, as the city’s convention facilities
to be reopened for business until October. Any evacuees who
remained in the convention center and the Reliant Astrodome were
taken to Arkansas for safety.
At press time, Tollett had the happy challenge of worrying
about available hotel rooms when baseball’s Houston Astros made it
to the World Series at the end of October. He said a plan was being
developed to move some of the remaining evacuees from Houston’s
hotels to properties in Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, both
in Texas, where occupancy is sparse in late fall/early winter.