For medical societies that had meetings planned for fall 2005 or early 2006, the decision to move their meetings from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck was not a difficult one. But now that the city is rebuilding its hotel inventory, reopening its convention center, and even held a scaled-down version of Mardi Gras, planners whose meetings were originally scheduled for further out in 2006 had a tougher call to make.
Ken Cammarata, business manager, American Society of Head and Neck Radiology, Oak Brook, Ill., is one who decided to take his meeting elsewhere: Phoenix, to be exact. “The executive committee wanted to move the meeting fairly soon after the hurricane hit in New Orleans,” he says. The meeting is a relatively small one — it drew 300 attendees to its 2005 meeting in San Francisco — and Cammarata says it wasn't hard to shift from the Sheraton New Orleans to the Phoenix-based Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, another Sheraton property.
He credits much of the ease of the process to the third-party meeting planner the society employs, who worked closely with the society and Sheraton to negotiate the relocation in September 2005. Part of the deal, says Cammarata, is that the meeting will head back to New Orleans in 2009 or 2010. “That was part of the negotiating process, that we would bring the meeting back to New Orleans at a later date if we moved it in 2006.”
After the program chairman did a site visit, the negotiations wrapped up in November 2005. “We wanted to make a decision in the 2005 calendar year so we could promote the meeting right away,” says Cammarata. The main priority was to maintain the September 27 to October 1, 2006, dates, which the Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa could do.
Keeping the same dates also was important for the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, based in Lakewood, Colo. “We really wanted to keep the dates as close to those that we had in New Orleans, so it was important to relocate to a city that could meet that need,” says Jenn Zohn, ACVIM's media relations manager. Thanks, she says, to quick work by ACVIM's meeting management and services company, Conferon, they relocated the meeting to the Louisville Marriott Downtown in Louisville, Ky., over its original June 2006 dates. “Conferon presented us with several locations that could hold a conference the size of ours during May 31 to June 3, and Louisville was the best fit for ACVIM,” says Zohn.
While ACVIM is expecting a drop in attendance — from a projected 4,000 in New Orleans to 3,200 in Louisville — Zohn says “We took advantage of the need to relocate to hire a marketing firm, Attendance Marketing, to promote the 2006 ACVIM Forum in Louisville. As a result, we will be doing many new things, including using electronic and print media, to relay the relocation message as well as attract new attendees.”
The American Academy of Optometry, Rockville, Md., also decided to move its December 2006 meeting from New Orleans, in its case to Denver, says AAO's Deborah Brandt, director of membership and communications. “We had to find a city that could handle our size — we have more than 4,000 people come to our meeting. We also have an exhibition that we started to sell at the 2005 meeting.”
Staying the Course
Other medical societies have decided to stick with New Orleans for their 2006 meetings, including the Washington, D.C. — based the American Psychological Association and The American College of Emergency Physicians, based in Irving, Texas. The APA committed last fall, in a unanimous decision, to hold its annual meeting in New Orleans in August 2006. APA was satisfied that the main sectors its attendees would be using, including the Central Business and Warehouse/Arts districts and the French Quarter, would be in good shape, and that the air and water quality would be safe. With 13,000 attendees, the soundness of the infrastructure was key, and APA deemed it ready for its annual meeting. “All indications are that New Orleans is on a strong trajectory of recovery and will be well-prepared to host our meeting next summer,” says Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA CEO.
“My first inclination was not to go back [to New Orleans] for quite a while,” says Tom Werlinich, ACEP's associate executive director, educational and professional products. “But I went on a site visit for a day and a half, and I was very impressed with the convention center, the hotels we'll be using, the restaurants. There's no doubt in my mind that the city will be ready to accommodate us.”
Still, he expects some members will not go to New Orleans because of hurricane-related concerns. In fact, a survey of the membership before the decision to go back to New Orleans was made showed it was split 50-50 on the issue, Werlinich says. However, because of the experience local emergency physicians had during the Katrina crisis, Werlinich says, ACEP felt there was an emotional imperative in going back to the city next year.
There may be some apprehension on the part of the membership, but, Werlinich says, it's “not unlike going to someplace like San Francisco — who knows when an earthquake will occur? There are going to be some risks wherever you go.”
A Show of Support
The American Society of Hematology, Washington, D.C., recently donated $200,000 to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau's New Orleans Tourism Relief Funds. The money will go toward helping to rebuild the city's tourism infrastructure.