SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS June 2007 They may be the very soul of hospitality, but the folks in New Orleans are sick of media attention that writes off the city's recovery. "It's killing our business," says Cory Chambers, director of sales and marketing for the New Orleans Marriott in the French Quarter. "The French Quarter was not touched by Katrina, and the rest of the city is coming back. We need people to know that."
To help get the word out, Marriott invited media to trail meeting planners on a fam trip to the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, where the likes of Dr. John, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Harry Connick Jr. performed.
Unlike Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest is a good time to meet - especially for associations, according to Michael C. Touchy, director of sales and marketing for the Renaissance Arts Hotel and the Renaissance Pere Marquette: "For an association, Jazz Fest promotes attendance. It happens on the weekend, so a group can meet during the week, and then just tie into the festival, pre- or post-meeting." Sadly, Touchy noted that 70 percent of the Fest's advance sales went to "locals" within a 150-mile radius. People farther than that, "still think we're underwater," he says.
After a day of touring venues throughout the city, we joined up for a reception at the JWMarriott. Suddenly, a jazz band entered the room, playing the blues. It was followed by a coffin, a minister, and "mourners" (which, in this case, included a widow, consoled by a French nun). The minister informed us that, like elsewhere, a funeral is a sad occasion in the Big Easy; but only here do the mourners then put away sorrow to form a joyous "second line." At that, the band sounded a happy note and we all formed a boisterous dancing line behind the coffin, out the door, across Canal Street, and into the New Orleans Marriott, while tossing beads to passersby.
On the way to Jazz Fest (out by City Park), our group toured residential communities hit hard by disaster - indeed a sobering sight. But later that day, when I left the Fest (which ultimately drew 375,000 attendees) I took a cab back through the French Quarter, which was bustling. The driver grumbled, "Everybody keeps asking me, 'Where's the water?' " Then he laughed and pointed in the direction of the Mississippi. "I say, 'It's over there, in the river.'