The Convention Industry Council, the umbrella organization for 30 meeting industry associations, and Maritz Inc., the giant meeting and incentive company, have recently joined other meetings industry organizations to lead the cause for bringing meeting and tourism business back to New Orleans. Maritz so strongly believes in the destination, that Sandi Porter, director, industry relations, says, "the meetings industry is defining the destiny of New Orleans."

The CIC board of directors had planned to meet in Washington, D.C., in April. "But before we finalized a hotel, we decided it would be better to hold it in New Orleans to show our support for the city," says Mary Power, president and CEO of CIC. "It was also felt that once our board, which represents one delegate from each of our 30 member organizations, saw the city, they could give better feedback to their members and give some key statements to help promote the city for meetings." The dates of the board meeting are April 9 to 11.

Maritz announced in January that it is moving its global sales conference to New Orleans, May 23 to 26, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside--the first time in 11 years it will meet outside of St. Louis, its headquarters city. "It was a very conscious and deliberate move on the part of Maritz after seeing the skewed coverage of the city in the general media," says Porter.

"The hotels, restaurants, DMCs, and venues are ready ... they just need people to come back in order to move forward," she says. "The general media is not focused on the hospitality community. But we are aware that tourism is the lifeblood of that community."

Porter adds that, if anything, "service and responsiveness are superior to pre-Katrina. There is such an eagerness. And on a positive note, the hotels are more willing to negotiate," she says. "There really is no valid reason not to recommend it for corporate meetings."

Maritz is hoping that its sales team, after seeing the city firsthand, "will become emissaries," adds Porter. "While the corporate meeting world is cautious, we can help educate our industry and let people know New Orleans is not necessarily everything you see on TV. It's not going to be back to the way it was overnight."

CIC and Maritz join the efforts of NYC & Company and the Association for a Better New York, which launched a patriotic travel mission to help rebuild tourism in New Orleans in mid-February. Nearly 200 New Yorkers along with several dozen NYC & Company board members and civic leaders, traveled as the official delegation to New Orleans to thank and repay the city that had supported them after 9/11.

"In order for there to be a long-term and sustainable recovery in New Orleans, the local economy must be revived, and tourism is the bedrock of that economy," said Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman of NYC & Company, who attributes New York City's record high visitor levels to the support of many patriotic tourism visitors.

Additionally, Meeting Professionals International confirmed last fall that it will hold its 2007 Professional Education Conference-North America in New Orleans, January 21 to 23, 2007, as scheduled.

And the Professional Convention Management Association announced in January that it has decided to take its annual meeting to New Orleans in 2009. "We had been talking to other cities [about hosting the meeting], but nothing had been finalized," Chairman Gregg Talley said. "PCMA wants to show its support for New Orleans, and our choice was fully endorsed by the cities we had been talking to."