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 such as 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.”Many organizations have staged successful citywide meetings in New Orleans post-Katrina. In part to highlight the city’s recovery, presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton appeared together at the meeting of the National Association of Realtors. The November meeting attracted more than 25,000 attendees.