New Orleans is suffering through an outburst of deadly violence as the city gets set to host next week’s Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference.

The Crescent City experienced nine homicides in the first eight days of the 2007, and last Thursday, thousands of New Orleans citizens marched on City Hall to protest the level of violence and demand an effective law-enforcement response to the escalating problem.

The crime wave, along with the resulting national media coverage, has the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as MPI leadership, scrambling to reassure MPI/PEC attendees that the city will be a safe and secure destination for the four-day conference, January 20-23.

“I want to personally reassure you that we have been working around the clock in partnership with the mayor, New Orleans Police Department, city officials, citizens, tourism and business leaders, to aggressively address the recent wave of crime,” said New Orleans CVB President and CEO Stephen Perry in a statement sent last week to CVB clients, members, and staff. Perry went on to say that the city’s business, tourism, political, and citizen groups are working together “to implement change with a sense of urgency and specific short-term and long-term solutions.

“We are encouraged by these actions and will not let crime reverse the city’s successes of the past 30 years, in particular the past 12 months in hospitality and tourism,” said Perry.

In a letter sent to MPI leaders, MPI President and CEO Bruce MacMillan said, “MPI is sensitive to the concerns of our members related to the recent isolated acts of violence in some parts of New Orleans. We continue to monitor the situation and are in constant contact with city officials. We have been and continue to work closely with city leaders in preparation for this year’s conference. The comfort and security of the more than 2,300 MPI members expected to attend is of the utmost importance to us all.”

MacMillan reported MPI and New Orleans officials will increase security during the conference. One measure will be additional police details in the downtown business district, including around conference hotels and the Morial Convention Center. MacMillan also pointed out that reports over New Year’s weekend and through the Sugar Bowl football game indicated that the crowded downtown and French Quarter were enjoyable and safe.

According to MPI spokeswoman Kathryn Goldstein, MacMillan last week talked directly with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the New Orleans police chief, who, Goldstein said, assured MacMillan they were committed to providing MPI with a safe and secure conference.

The security issue was also addressed prominently in a “Know Before You Go” communication sent to attendees last week, said Goldstein. In that communication, according to Goldstein, attendees were assured that “the security of MPI’s members, as always, is a priority.”

Other security measures MPI is implementing include a 24-hour on-site security team, as well as the placement of “Safety 101” security and safety tips in conference registration bags and hotel rooms.