- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

The Baltimore and Washington convention associations have received calls from organizations frantically looking to find a new home for their New Orleans conventions after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau canceled all citywide conventions through March 31 as the city cleans up and rebuilds.

The American Society of Microbiology’s convention is the only confirmed event coming to the District from New Orleans so far.

The group, which is based in the District and promotes research in microbiological sciences, moved its convention, planned for Sept. 19 to 23 in New Orleans, to Dec. 16 to 19 at the Washington Convention Center.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Nancy Elder, director of meetings and industry relations at the society. “We have 12,000 individuals who need to be contacted with varying degrees of information.”

The group had to make the same move in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“We set about an immediate strategy. … Doing it again, we already had a bit of a template,” she said.

The group is better able to anticipate members’ questions, better able to communicate the updated information and more familiar with the details necessary in moving the convention, she said.

The group moved to the District after considering other cities because it held the meeting here last year and is familiar with the convention center. Also, the group’s headquarters are in the District.

The Washington D.C. Convention & Tourism Corp. has been in talks with more than a dozen other groups looking to move their conventions to the District.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has fielded about 25 inquiries about rescheduling conventions there from New Orleans.

“Since the hurricane, we’ve been fielding a lot of calls, trying to do what we can do assist these customers,” said Ronnie Burt, vice president of convention sales and services.

None of the groups has committed to a spot in Baltimore, but the convention and visitor group’s calendar did not have many openings this fall, Mr. Burt said.

New Orleans, home to one of the largest convention centers in the nation, is expected to lose $1 billion in tourism revenue from the canceled and relocated meetings. The city was to host at least 120 meetings and conventions in September, October and November, according to the bureau’s Web site.

“The commitment of New Orleans to a flawless experience for our customers means unequivocally that we will not re-open for convention business until the experience is perfect and to your and our high standards,” New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau President J. Stephen Perry posted on the bureau’s Web site yesterday.

Other groups have moved their conventions to other cities, including Las Vegas, San Diego and Kansas City, Mo.

The National School Boards Association’s annual conference of 13,000 people is scheduled to take place in New Orleans in April. The group is hoping it doesn’t have to move.

“We started looking for options a week ago on the off chance they won’t be able to facilitate our conference,” said Robin Preston, director of conferences, meetings and exhibits for the group of public school board leaders.

They are looking into Washington, San Diego, San Francisco, Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia.

“Not only are we competing with those groups that were scheduled to be in New Orleans, but we’re competing with groups that have already scheduled in those cities,” Ms. Preston said.

Some groups that planned conventions for September had to cancel their events entirely.

Shepherd Pittman contributed to this story.

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