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Published in Print: September 14, 2005, as Education Groups Hustle to Find Alternate Conference Sites

Education Groups Hustle to Find Alternate Conference Sites

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The devastation of New Orleans has left the National Association of Secondary School Principals rushing to find an alternative city to host its annual conference. Scheduled years in advance, its meeting next March was set for the Big Easy until Hurricane Katrina washed those plans away.

The National School Boards Association has an even larger conference scheduled in New Orleans next April. It hadn’t canceled its plans as of late last week.

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“I did inform [the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau] that we were looking at other options, just in case,” said Robin Preston, the Alexandria, Va., group’s director of conferences.

Any hopes the NASSP had that the city might be cleaned up in time for its meeting were dashed last week, after the city visitors’ bureau officially canceled all large conferences through next March.

Nancy Revere, the director of conferences for the Reston, Va.-based group, said she was calling other cities nonstop, but she knew hundreds of other organizations were doing the same thing.

“To relocate a citywide [conference] this late in the game, that is very, very difficult,” said Angela Gennari, the director of VenueQuest, a Tampa, Fla.-based conference-planning company.

Smaller groups were having less difficulty rebooking. The National Council on Teacher Retirement, with just 700 people slated for New Orleans next month, rebooked in Tampa, Fla., after “a mad scramble,” said Jim Mosman, the executive director.

The NASSP, however, had some 4,500 attendees and exhibitors last year in San Francisco last year. It had expected to fill about nine hotels in New Orleans, Ms. Revere said. The hurricane came just before the launch of a promotional drive for the conference.

“We have a beautiful four-color brochure sitting in a warehouse … that’s basically wallpaper,” Ms. Revere said. The group hopes to announce a new location for its meeting by Oct. 1.

The NSBA, which represents members of local school boards, has an even larger conference. It was expecting about 13,000 attendees and exhibitors and planned to fill about 27 New Orleans hotels. It is looking for a city that can accommodate similar numbers and has at least 350,000 square feet for exhibit and meeting space.

Ms. Preston lamented the damage to one of the NSBA’s favorite locations: “New Orleans is like no other city, in terms of what it offers—history, food, the people—there’s just so much to do down there, and the hospitality.”

Vol. 25, Issue 03, Page 27

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