Airlift capacity to New Orleans came into question recently when Microsoft Corp., citing the logistical challenges associated with reduced flights, decided to relocate three conferences it had planned for the Crescent City in 2007. Microsoft spokeswoman Robyn Kratzer says the issue “really was all about the airline infrastructure.” Kratzer also points out that a “significant” portion of the people from the relocated meetings come from international destinations, “compounding the logistical challenges.”
Media reports about the Microsoft cancellations have blown the airlift issue “a bit out of proportion,” according to Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. Perry notes that since New Orleans started hosting citywide conventions again in June, it has successfully hosted large events without any airlift problems save “a handful of people who have missed late night connections due to weather.”
Perry also says that New Orleans, with a relatively small population and corporate base, has “never had as comprehensive an airlift” as business centers like New York or Chicago. “We've hosted nine Super Bowls, the Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Mardi Gras. We've consistently been one of the top four or five meeting destinations. And in every circumstance we've been able to work around the lift challenge.”
The CVB has worked out a system with the airlines, says Perry. “We are feeding them our entire convention schedule. We're even showing them housing patterns on the shoulder nights of meetings and conventions so they can see full fly-in patterns. With this kind of information they can add new flights and update equipment so they can meet the demand for groups like the National Association of Realtors (which is bringing 25,000 attendees to New Orleans in November).”
Several insurance and financial services organizations have staged successful meetings in New Orleans post-Katrina. For example, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, based in Alexandria, Va., held its Fall Leadership Conference in New Orleans in September. The Risk and Insurance Management Society, New York, will hold its annual conference in New Orleans April 29 to May 3, 2007. Sal Schiarelle, the RIMS director of meetings and events, says the New Orleans CVB has assured him that there will be sufficient airlift to handle the event, expected to draw 5,000 attendees.
As an organization of insurance risk managers, “we've done some extensive due diligence,” Schiarelle says. “We've really put on our risk management hats. We've got our hands on more information [than is available to other organizations] so we're sure we're making the right decision. We've seen a number of citywides take place [in New Orleans] and that's given us a comfort level that any problems encountered will be corrected.”;