With Hurricane Katrina canceling conventions from New Orleans to southern Florida, the Spokane Regional Convention Bureau is contacting frantic meeting planners, offering the Lilac City as an alternate venue.
It’s a bit of a delicate proposition, CVB President Harry Sladich said Thursday.
“We don’t want to capitalize on someone’s misery. …but the reality is, they need alternative locations,” he said.
New Orleans is a well-known convention city, whose picturesque French Quarter draws thousand of delegates and conferences every year. Outside of Las Vegas, the Big Easy is one of the nation’s most popular conference centers, Sladich said. The storm also disrupted meetings planned for parts of Florida, southern and central Mississippi, southern Alabama and western Georgia.
Conferences are typically booked 18 months in advance, leaving many event planners scrambling for new locations. It’s hard to change conference dates, because speakers have committed and attendees have blocked the time off on their calendars, Sladich said. Many planners are trying to find new cities that can accommodate the conference’s scheduled dates.
By Monday, the CVB had received several unsolicited requests from planners looking for new locations. CVB staff surveyed local hotels on room availability in the coming weeks and months.
The staff cross-referenced blocks of empty hotel rooms with the list of upcoming conventions in areas hit by the hurricane. To avoid the appearance of profiting from disaster, CVB staff members are only cold-calling event planners that they’ve worked with in the past, Sladich said.
“The last thing they need is a solicitation call from someone they don’t know,” he said. “It’s important that we keep our integrity and compassion.”
So far, the work has resulted in two requests for proposals, Sladich said.
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