(second in a series)
Houston, TX – When the city of Houston agreed to accept more than 20,000 hurricane evacuees, show managers had to scramble to relocate their events from the George R. Brown Convention Center. While some groups cancelled, Reed Exhibitions’ La Cumbre—the premier travel industry conference for the sales and marketing of travel to the Americas—chose Minute Maid Park as an alternate venue with the help of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“We thought that was the right thing to do out of respect for what the city of Houston was doing (for the evacuees),” said Rick Still, Senior Vice President/Reed Exhibitions for Latin America and La Cumbre Managing Director. That doesn’t mean it was easy…….
Rick Still admitted he couldn’t see how it would work at first, but after GES reviewed the mechanical plans of Minute Maid Park and said they could configure the show on one level, the CVB, La Cumbre and sponsor Continental Airlines agreed to the switch.“Then the fun began,” Still said.
Delegates were contacted via email to let them know the show would go on while GES and the convention center staff relocated the show . Minute Maid Park staff set up tables, chairs and extension cords. The CVB, meanwhile, helped coordinate food service, transportation and housing needs, keeping enough rooms available for delegates in the nearby Hilton and Hyatt even as they were helping to place more than 54,000 evacuees in more than 500 hotels across the city.
“It was a unique meeting,” said CVB President and CEO Jordy Tollett.
Tollett said Minute Maid Park officials covered and carpeted the infield that was used for a banquet. Still said the chef made a personal appearance to make sure everything was all right during the meal. And the Latin American audience—already familiar with baseball—loved being able to dine on the baseball paths and get a feel for the park. Media in attendance worked—where else?—from the press box.
Booths were set up around the perimeter of the field-level seats and daily events were broadcast on the Jumbotron—more typically used for baseball replays during Houston Astros games.“We didn’t lose any freight,” Still said.
In recognition of the national disaster in the Gulf States area, the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau and La Cumbre/Reed Exhibitions pledged matching funds of $5,000 toward relief efforts. Exhibitor organizations were encouraged to match funds donated by the two entities and many individual delegates stepped up to help. “Some delegates even volunteered at the convention center,” Still said, including the head of the Brazilian tour organization.
Still called the show one of the top events he’s worked with in his 30-year career. “La Cumbre is a first class organization that understood we were faced with a human tragedy,” said Tollett.