Ten months ago, in the trying days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was filled with 20,000 refugees. In the last week of June, it was a far different scene as the 18,000-member delegation from the American Library Association shuffled through the refurbished halls as part of the first citywide convention to return to the city since Katrina.
The high-profile meeting, watched closely by association planners and the meetings industry, went off without a hitch as the appreciative city rolled out the red carpet for the group.
Deidre Ross, the director of conference services with ALA, said supporting New Orleans was a driving factor in the decision not to cancel the annual convention, which took place June 22-28. However, while confident in the city’s ability to accommodate the group, she did have some questions about the readiness of the city that could only be answered once the meeting began. But when it was all over, she found that all her concerns were allayed by a city eager to return to the convention business.
“I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t come,” says Ross. That’s not to deny the lasting impact the hurricane has had on the city. “It’s a tale of two cities,” says Ross. In outlying sections of town, like the Ninth Ward and Lakeview, block after block of homes are devastated and deserted. It’s in stark contrast to the French Quarter and convention center area, where signs of damage are hard to find and businesses are open and—at least last week—were thriving as the hospitality industry awaits the return of visitors.
For a full report on the ALA convention in New Orleans, see the August issue ofmagazine.