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New Orleans strikes back against natural disasters

ecn 20th badge_flatWhen a natural disaster strikes, professionals in the tradeshow industry are usually some of the first to offer their advice or assistance.

In 2013, TradeTec Skyline founder and CEO Ken Buckman and his family used a crowdfunding donation site to raise money for Illinois tornado victims, and Event Solutions Owner Mary John Spencer donated carpet to Oklahoma tornado victims.

As New Orleans knows, help can come in another form when a destination’s tourism or tradeshow industry is hurt after a natural disaster.

Flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Causing massive destruction to the Mid-Atlantic U.S. in October 2012 was Hurricane Sandy, and on the opposite side of the world, Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) particularly devastated the Philippines in November 2013.

In response, officials from New Jersey and the Philippines sought New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau’s crisis management services. They knew that, of any destination, New Orleans would understand their predicament and could advise them on how to overcome image, tourism and tradeshow deterioration caused by an out-of-control weather system.

“We are poised to handle any crisis. It’s a lot of communication and a recovery plan of rebuilding and recovering [a destination’s] image to get the real story to the media,” explained Brad Weaber, executive vice president, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Some destinations are challenged by geography. We show them how to market themselves and get citizens involved.”

After facing the catastrophic category 5 cyclone named Katrina in August 2005, New Orleans CVB began offering its crisis management services to other tourist and tradeshows destinations affected by natural disasters. While many remember the negativity associated with Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans CVB reinforces its people who rose above storm-induced hardships.

“What the storm revealed about our destination is that we are sturdy and very confident. There was no question we’d come together, becoming bigger and brighter than ever. There was an immediate response to counteract anything not true,” said Weaber.

A major part of the city’s crisis management offerings is the New Orleans Convention Bureau Rapid Response Team, which is comprised of executive staff experienced in emergency response. They constantly communicate with city and state officials, meeting vendors, and convention center officials to implement emergency plans.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina
Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina

A plan was needed immediately after Katrina forced the CVB to cancel $2 billion in business and relocate hundreds of meetings through May 2006.

“We had an incredible communications strategy to work with our clients. We kept them updated and found other locations for tradeshows — It was seamless. We won accolades for efficiency during the relocation,” added Weaber.

It didn’t take long for tradeshows and meetings to return to New Orleans, according to Weaber, with some coming back a few months after the hurricane.

“We immediately let people know when it was time and that we were ready with facilities and restaurants,” he added.

This strategy along with $1.57 billion in capital improvements to the city helped boost tourism after annual visitor numbers decreased from 10.1 million in 2004 to 5.3 million in 2005. Each year since the storm, annual visitor numbers have climbed, with 2012 seeing 9.1 million tourists.

New Orleans is now on track to receive 13.7 million annual visitors by its 300th anniversary in 2018, and it is continuing to build new infrastructure to attract tourists. In the works is a new mall across from Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (MCCNO), more restaurants and a new airport.

“It’s exciting that we announced a new airport. We work with air carriers around the world. It’s going to boost domestic and international visitors. Soon we’ll see more Chinese visitors,” added Weaber.

Aiding in New Orleans’ post-Katrina reputation gaining new heights was its handling of Hurricane Gustav and the BP oil spill.
In 2008, more than 30,000 visitors were evacuated from New Orleans in 24 hours during Gustav’s wrath. After it spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the oil and gas company BP paid New Orleans CVB $5 million in 2010 to mitigate brand damage and preserve the $5 billion New Orleans tourism industry.

They're probably performing -- "When the Saints go marching...when the Saints go marching in..."
They’re probably performing — “When the Saints go marching in…when the Saints go marching in…

The destination’s reputation also grew in strength after winning four Travelers’ Choice awards in a row from TripAdvisor, a global travel site, and from securing high-profile events, such as the International CTIA WIRELESS show in 2012 and Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.

Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, those in the New Orleans tradeshow industry still remember its effects.

When the storm passed over New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, it ripped holes in the roof of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a facility that holds five exhibitions a year and welcomes over one million people for private and public events annually. During the storm, the Superdome became a gathering place for evacuees.

New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center didn’t suffer any major structural damage, according to Weaber. Other sources indicate the sixth largest public assembly venue in the U.S. sustained roof damage and temporary loss of water pressure and electricity.

Whether it was due to aging, effects from the storm or growth, both the Superdome and MCCNO received upgrades after Katrina. As part of a multi-phase $336 million renovation, the 40-year-old Superdome in 2011 received an $85 million upgrade. In January 2013, MCCNO completed a $52 million expansion, and the facility also saw million-dollar upgrades in 2006 and 2009.

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau is a nationally accredited, 1,100-member destination marketing organization.

To learn more about its crisis management services, visit www.neworleanscvb.com/meeting-planners/plan-your-meeting/emergency-planning/.

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