Natural and unnatural disasters threatened to affect tourism and meetings in Nashville, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, Boston, and New York City after a weekend of wild weather, the aftermath of an oil spill and a catastrophic water main break, plus a possible terrorist attack. The situations prove to meeting planners the need to expect the unexpected, and have contingency plans in place for every meeting.

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the largest hotel in Nashville, evacuated guests to a shelter over the weekend and is closed due to unprecedented rains and flooding in the area, according to the hotel’s Web site. The first meeting casualty was the Defense Information Systems Agency’s annual Customer Partnership Conference, which was scheduled to begin its four-day gathering of 5,000 people at the Opryland on Monday.

Some witnesses said water had risen 10 feet above floor level at Opryland. And The Tennessean reported May 4 that it may be several months before the resort can reopen.

Other hotels in the surrounding Music Valley area sustained flood damage and have closed, some for several weeks and others for several months, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site.

Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville CVB, told the Nashville Business Journal that he spent Monday morning talking with Gaylord hotel officials to take care of immediate needs, to deal with damage estimates, and to try and find new homes for upcoming conventions that might be displaced.

One of those taking a wait-and-see stance is the Romance Writers of America, whose conference is scheduled three months from now. The association posted this statement on its Web site: “RWA is contractually obligated to hold its conference at the Gaylord Opryland over the dates stipulated in the contract. It is up to Gaylord to notify RWA if it cannot uphold its end of the contract, so we are in a wait-and-see mode.”

The Cumberland River was expected to crest sometime Monday evening and begin receding on Tuesday, according to the Nashville mayor's office.

Oil Spill Spares New Orleans Tourism
The oil spill in the Gulf Coast region presented no disruptions for travelers to New Orleans or the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to CVB reports. On Monday, the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. reported that it is “business as usual for visitors to New Orleans. The city welcomed hundreds of thousands of leisure and business travelers this weekend, and is anticipating a busy month of May for both leisure and business travelers. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau is closely monitoring cleanup efforts of the rig-centered oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. We are in constant communication with officials from the City of New Orleans, the United States Coast Guard, and the Command Center. New Orleans is located approximately 100 miles inland, and we do not anticipate any disruption in guest service or impact to visitors, New Orleans citizens, or tourism industry businesses as oil reaches the coastline of Louisiana some 80–100 miles from New Orleans.”

Kelly Schulz, vice president, communications and public relations, added, “This is unfamiliar territory for the Gulf Coast region because the leak has not yet been contained. During a hurricane there is a landfall and an end in sight. This is an unknown that could last for weeks. There was progress today on containing the leak, which is good news.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB reports that inshore fishing, Mississippi Sound fishing, and all water activities on the Mississippi Sound are open, including beach vendors along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Like everyone else on the Gulf Coast, the CVB is monitoring the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” states the CVB’s Web site.

Times Square Scare
On Saturday night, after a car bomb was found in a deserted car in Times Square, Manhattan’s busiest tourist area and the heart of the theater district, some of the rooms at the Marriott Marquis had to be evacuated, according to USA Today. The rudimentary makings for a bomb were deactivated before harm could be done. Federal officers arrested 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American at John F. Kennedy International Airport around midnight May 3 in connection with the car bomb.

”Love that Dirty Water”
So goes the refrain from a well-known song about Boston. But some two million people in Boston and nearby towns were not loving Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s “boil water order,” which he delivered May 1 after a catastrophic water-main break stopped the flow of treated water into the city. Restaurants were forced to review all of their food-preparation processes and hotels scrambled to offer complimentary bottled water to guests.

After hundreds of water-quality tests were performed following the repair of the rupture May 3, the boil-water order was lifted May 4.