September 07, 2005
Following the devastation caused in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO J. Stephen Perry announced, "All citywide conventions are canceled through Dec. 1. Additional assessments will be made during the next two weeks when we are out of search-and-rescue mode." All hotels are closed, as is the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Up-to-date information is available on the home page of the NOCVB's website, Kathleen Ratcliffe, executive vice president of the NOCVB, is working out of the offices of the International Association for Exhibition Management in Dallas and can be reached at (972) 687-9211. Colleague Sallee Pavlovich, director of corporate sales for the NOCVB, has relocated to Washington, D.C., as of yesterday and is working from the Destination Marketing Association International's headquarters. Her direct line is (202) 835-4082. Other meetings destinations, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast, also are closed for meetings business. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau has not been able to update its website. Area CVB officials are trying to contact planners with events booked for the area, but power and phone access has been crippled throughout the region. Many events have been forced to find alternative venues.

Here are some of the reactions from various hotel chains affected by Hurricane Katrina:
· Hilton Hotels Corporation is waiving cancellation fees for transient business at hotels directly affected by the storm (New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi) through Nov. 30. The chain also is waiving group cancellation damages through Nov. 30 in those areas and has established a Hurricane Group Bookings Hotline for planners (866-973-8030). Hilton had 22 properties affected by Hurricane Katrina, all of which remain closed at this time.
· Marriott International also is waiving cancellation fees for transient and group bookings in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, through Nov. 15. The chain is contacting affected groups to advise them of the policy. For organizations that have business booked beyond Nov. 15, Marriott will work directly with local authorities to evaluate the chain's ability to be open for business. Marriott's 15 properties in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi remain closed. A toll-free hotline (800-228-9290) has been set up to handle reservation inquiries.
· Cendant Corp. -- which operates brands such as Ramada, Amerihost Inn, Days Inn, Travelodge and Howard Johnson -- is focusing on finding some 500 unaccounted-for workers. The company has established a special hotline for employees to call for assistance, including distribution of pay, temporary housing and other benefits (866-827-2347).
· The Hyatt Regency New Orleans, where 900 guests, employees and their families remained huddled until being evacuated recently, sustained substantial physical damage and will remain closed indefinitely. The company said its national sales force is in the process of contacting all meeting planners who have scheduled business with the property through March 31, 2006, to offer assistance with relocation to other destinations. Hyatt also announced it would waive all cancellation fees for groups who have business booked through that date.

In Houston, where about 30,000 evacuees of Hurricane Katrina are being housed (5,000 in the George R. Brown Convention Center and 25,000 in the center, arena and Astrodome that make up Reliant Park), salespeople for the facilities and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau are actively contacting groups to reschedule events that were to take place in September. "La Cumbre, a Latin-American travel conference with about 1,200 attendees, was supposed to start [at the convention center] yesterday," said a spokesperson for the CVB. "Everything has been moved over to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play; the entire event was redone in about three days." Evacuees are expected to be moved into temporary housing by the end of the month, with business as usual returning to the convention center by Oct. 1. "We are in the middle of finding short-term housing for the people staying here," said a center spokesperson. "It's going so smoothly, we think there is plenty of time for us to be up and running with convention business by October." Area hotels, which were overflowing last week as the displaced came to town, are starting to have availability again, as evacuees are finding other places to go and are checking out. Hotel occupancy taxes are being waved for those people who inform properties they will be staying on for at least 30 days.

The International Association for Exhibition Management has joined with other key organizations in the meetings industry -- the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Destination Marketing Association International, International Association of Assembly Managers, American Society of Association Executives, Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association -- to create a special task force to assist members and groups who must relocate events scheduled in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Planners with meetings scheduled in the zone affected by the storm can contact IAEM at to begin the process of placing their events elsewhere. The Destination Marketing Association International also is offering to help facilitate planners' communication with CVB officials. Call Elaine Rosquist, DMAI's executive vice president, at or (202) 835-4209. At the website of Meeting Professionals International there is a resource page for those affected by Hurricane Katrina ( Planners from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast looking for work can post a free 60-day listing on the organization's job board.

Carnival Cruise Lines has chartered three of its cruise ships, Ecstasy, Sensation and Holiday, to the Military Sealift Command on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for six months as part of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The Ecstasy, whose home port is Galveston, Texas, and the Sensation, which sails from New Orleans, were pulled from service yesterday and have been docked in Galveston. The Holiday, which sails from Mobile, Ala., will be pulled from service Thursday and will remain docked in Mobile. 

The Missouri Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus has issued a challenge to other state CVB associations to commit cash donations to the Louisiana Association of CVBs, the Alabama Association of CVBs and the Mississippi Tourism Association. The MACVB has contributed $1,000 to each of these three organizations. Those interested can contact Marci Bennett, executive director of the St. Joseph CVB and executive director of the MACVB campaign at (816) 233-6688 or