Published 10/1/2009
Maureen Leahy

Food, fun, and all that jazz

Rebuilding New Orleans’ hospitality industry

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the AAOS was forced to shift its 2006 Annual Meeting from New Orleans to Chicago.

The resulting change in venue prompted a unique opportunity to support the recovery efforts in New Orleans. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB), along with local hotels, pledged to donate $10 per room per night of Annual Meeting sleeping rooms to rebuilding New Orleans. In May 2007, the CCTB and the 67 participating hotels delivered on that promise, donating nearly $900,000 to two New Orleans institutions. The AAOS, the largest of the three associations that participated in the program, was responsible for generating more than $600,000 of the funds, according to CEO Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE.

In March 2010, the AAOS Annual Meeting returns to New Orleans. How has the city changed since Katrina, and in particular, what impact has the generous CCTB endowment had on New Orleans’ hospitality industry?

Educating the workforce
When John A. Williams, PhD, professor and director of The Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration at the University of New Orleans (UNO), learned of CCTB’s intentions, he jumped at the school’s opportunity to be part of the city’s rebuilding efforts.

John A. Willliams, PhD

Graduates of The Kabacoff School go on to careers in hotels, restaurants, and all hospitality managed services areas. A Program of Distinction at UNO, the school not only provides superior academic learning, but is also very involved in the community.

“We have a true ‘living laboratory’ in New Orleans; students not only receive theoretical course work, but they get practical experience, a combination that makes our graduates very desirable,” said Dr. Williams.

The CCTB accepted Dr. Williams’ proposal and awarded the school $447,800, which was converted into 44 scholarships available to qualifying undergraduate and graduate students. The New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) received matching funds to construct homes for families of hospitality industry workers displaced by the storm.

Making dreams come true
When Katrina hit, New Orleans-area resident Emily MacLean was overseas finishing her undergraduate studies for a degree in communications.

“Hearing about the flooding, I realized how much I loved New Orleans. I wanted to be a part of helping bring the city back and making it better than it was before the hurricane,” Ms. MacLean said.

Ms. MacLean returned to New Orleans determined to pursue a master’s degree in tourism and hospitality, an industry where she felt she could make a difference.

“If I took a job in communications or any other industry, chances are it would not be in New Orleans. Tourism is one of the city’s biggest industries,” she reasoned.

Ms. MacLean learned of the scholarship while searching UNO’s Web site. She applied, met the requirements, and, since receiving the scholarship, is on track to complete her graduate studies in Tourism and Hospitality Administration this December.

In the wake of the storm, the city had approached the school and asked it to bolster its program by adding new students. Katrina had flooded more than 80 percent of the city, displaced thousands of residents, and in the process, created a substantial shortage of employees in New Orleans.“Predicated on that request, I submitted a proposal to Tim Roby, CEO and president of the CCTB, outlining our goal to use the funds for scholarships,” said Dr. Williams.

“I was dedicated to being in this industry—in this city—and the scholarship made my dream so much more attainable,” said Ms. MacLean.

The scholarship also made a big difference for Kimberly Abbate, currently a senior in the undergraduate program at The Kabacoff School.

“As one of four children, I would not have been able to pursue my degree without this scholarship, especially in light of today’s economy,” Ms. Abbate said.

Ms. Abbate said working in the hospitality industry has been her dream since she was in high school. Currently a front desk and reservations agent at a French Quarter hotel, she hopes to eventually pursue a career in events planning. For the time being, however, the third-generation New Orleans resident is content to stay in the city she loves and contribute to its recovery efforts.

“Most of our student body is local, and traditionally, up to 80 percent work full-time within the industry, primarily to pay for tuition. These scholarships had a big impact on keeping the school’s enrollment figures up after the storm,” said Dr. Williams.

Bouncing back
New Orleans has recovered quite well from Katrina, according to Dr. Williams. Prior to the storm, the city had 805 restaurants; currently more than 1,000 seated restaurants are open in the New Orleans area. “You can’t get a bad meal here,” said Felix H. Savoie III, MD, who moved to New Orleans after the storm to help rebuild the orthopaedic community.

The city offers a stunning array of world-class accommodations, ranging from elegantly appointed, modern high-rise hotels to enchanting, eclectic boutique properties, each offering a distinctly New Orleans experience.

“New Orleans is better, in many respects, than it was before the hurricane. We’ve got more restaurants, more to see, and more to do,” said Daniel J. Gallagher, MD, who practices in nearby Marrero, La. “It’s back and it’s ready.”

“The city is completely revitalized and beautiful. The hotels have been renovated and they’re ready,” said AAOS local chair Michele Zembo, MD, MBA. “On behalf of the city of New Orleans, we are so excited that the Academy is coming back and we look forward to seeing everyone.”

Maureen Leahy is assistant managing editor for AAOS Now. She can be reached at leahy@aaos.org

Additional Links:

Comeback in the Crescent City

Making a fresh start after Katrina

It’s not always easy in the Big Easy

Chicago delivers on promise to New Orleans