Exhibitors Get Reassuring Tour in New Orleans

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New Orleans – Trade-show exhibitors came here Wednesday to tour the convention center and see for themselves whether the city is ready for next May’s The Cable Show ’08 – and they seemed to come away reassured.

For all the statistics about hotel renovations, restaurant stability and available laborers, representatives of cable programmers and other exhibitors seemed most impressed that the city seemed the way it seemed on past visits. At least in the downtown and French Quarter areas where most convention attendees will stay, work and play.

“I’ve been impressed,” Allen Haveson, director of trade marketing at Showtime Networks said after hearing from hotel vendors and tourism officials, then taking part in a guided tour of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. “So far, I feel good” about the convention prospects, he said, adding it felt like a great way to follow up on the excitement generated by this year’s convention in Las Vegas.

Other exhibitor representatives seemed similarly pleased by what they’d seen and heard. In particular they seemed pleased to hear convention contractors say there would be plenty of carpenters, electricians and other support workers available to support this big convention.

Several exhibitors said they had been concerned about public safety in the city – fears that dissipated once they’d been around the convention center and surrounding areas.

But some said they’d toured the city on Tuesday, including still-devastated areas, and were shocked at how awful conditions are still in areas such as the Ninth Ward and Lakeview.

A show of hands of people attending the meeting at the Morial Center indicated no one there had been to New Orleans since the flooding after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association invited trade-show exhibitors to hear about how the city is ready to welcome 15,000 or so attendees at the cable industry's biggest convention next May. (See “Singing Happy Tune for New Orleans Return,” Sept. 24.)

But mostly, NCTA SVP of industry affairs Barbara York explained, the association wanted exhibitors to see the city and the facilities for themselves.

About 30 representatives from networks and their booth vendors came – more than the association had expected based on RSVPs, York said.

The NCTA is planning several “giveback” events, York explained, saying companies that wanted to could contribute to projects such as rebuilding school playgrounds or supplying books to libraries. Or they could come up with their own tailored events, such as Sportsman Channel offering to supply venison to a food kitchen.

In addition, the NCTA is planning to recruit cable industry folks with musical ability to participate in a “battle of the bands” that would be the convention-closing entertainment. That way, money could be raised instead of spent on a big-name band, the NCTA’s Mark Bell, senior director of industry affairs, explained.

Plans for that are still under way, York said. In fact, the idea had only been sketched out on a napkin the night before at a restaurant in the massively renovated (for $66 million) Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

Still, it’s an idea that should resonate with the many musicians whose day jobs are at cable firms. Several of them have been discussing just such a fundraising event at least since this past May. (Please see “Getting the (Broad)band Back Together,” May 14.)

Sallee Pavlovich, director of corporate and trade shows for the New Orleans convention and visitors’ bureau, said most downtown hotels did not suffer water damage during or after the storm. But most if not all took the tourism downtime to make overdue renovations. “It’s sort of the lemonade out of lemons story,” she said.

The convention center itself, which did not suffer water damage but which became a symbol of Katrina’s devastation when thousands took refuge here, also has been extensively renovated. One noticeable difference: the carpet, once red and "burnt orange," has been replaced with 88,000 yards of blue and green carpet, officials said.

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