As the full extent of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina continues to unfold, many associations with upcoming meetings in affected areas are stuck in a limbo of indecision--they don't have enough information to decide whether to move their meetings or not.
"Right now, we're advocating the waiting game," says Kevin Jetton, national collegiate conference director, Association of Information Technology Professionals, Chicago. AITP has two conferences--an educational conference and an executive conference--scheduled at the New Orleans Sheraton October 6-9. About 250 people are expected to attend the meetings.
According to the Starwood Hotels and Resorts Web site, the New Orleans Sheraton is closed until September 15. But given the unknown scale of damage, it's hard to be certain that the property will reopen by then, and that the city will be in shape to handle travelers. "Meanwhile, you've got attendees hammering you for a decision and it's impossible to gather the facts," Jetton says. He is going to wait until next week to make a decision.
New Orleans is a major convention destination whose high season is just getting into swing. USA Today yesterday quoted Dan Hubbard, spokesperson for the National Business Aviation Association, as saying "we are still on" for the group's November 15-17 meeting, which is expected to draw 30,000 registrants and 1,000 exhibitors.
On the other hand, the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association announced yesterday afternoon that it is canceling SGIA '05, which was to be held in New Orleans September 28-October 1, with an expected attendance of 14,000. The association had tried to move the event to Atlanta but was unable to do so. As reported on its Web site: "The challenge [of moving the event] is simply too great to accomplish in the few weeks available.... Moving forward, SGIA will focus its efforts on SGIA '06 (Las Vegas, September 26--29, 2006) and other educational events."
Also canceled yesterday: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Fall National Meeting, which was to take place September 10-13 in New Orleans, drawing approximately 1,500 attendees and Al Gore as the keynote speaker.
According to a report in the Atlanta Journal, representatives from at least five groups have called the Atlanta CVB and the Georgia World Congress Center to see if the city could accommodate their conventions on short notice. Other cities heavily involved in meeting re-location and relief efforts: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas.
Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management yesterday launched a relief effort aimed at helping convention and trade shows who need to relocate out of the storm-affected areas. IAEM "has been in touch with sister organizations to create a Special Task Force for Associations to coordinate efforts to members with assistance...and help members who need to relocate events," according to a statement on the IAEM Web site. Organizers who need to relocate events are asked to contact IAEM and fill out a form so that the association can help find venues for relocated events.
Many convention organizers bound for New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast area are taking a look at their facilityto see what their penalties would be for relocating their events. For an excellent refresher on what is typically covered in clauses and cancellation insurance, check out the AM December 2004 cover story: "Are You Covered? Everything You Need to Know about Cancellation Insurance."