In addition to SARS, the war and anti-American sentiment in Europe affected international meeting plans. The American Radium Society did some fancy footwork rescheduling its April 26 to 30 meeting from Paris to Houston. The Chicago organization announced its decision March 17, shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq, but the venue change had been discussed for months before.
“We were concerned about participants not wanting to travel, their safety, and the anti-American sentiment in Europe,” says Cathy Carey, executive director. The meeting was expected to draw approximately 350 participants.
The society didn't face any penalty in breaking itswith the Paris Inter-Continental Hotel on such short notice, Carey says, because of a clause. She also explained to the property that the Radium Society wanted to book another meeting there in the next several years.
Houston was chosen as a replacement for Paris because it's the home of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which Carey figured might be a good source of speakers in case any backed out, which five of the 30 speakers did.
Not all Radium Society members were happy about the change: About 40 registered members had canceled by mid-April, some of them because they held non-refundable tickets to Paris.
Lining up venues to replace the Paris social program might have been the biggest challenge. Working with a local destination management company, “I did this 48-hour dash through Houston and probably saw 15 venues,” Carey says.
Participants enjoyed cocktails and a buffet at the Houston Museum of Natural Science instead of wandering among the Van Goghs at a Paris art museum; and they took cooking classes and tasted wines instead of touring the Loire Valley.
The Rosemont, Ill.-based Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons, on the other hand, moved ahead with its mid-May Paris program at the Hotel Lutetia. Before the war began, the association's executive committee voted to proceed as planned in the absence of travel warnings from the United States Department of State. Only a handful of the 120 expected surgeons canceled, most of them citing concerns about leaving their families behind during this time.