DM News Views: A Wounded New Orleans Didn't Lose Its Heart

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I just returned from New Orleans where the Travel Industry Association held its board meeting Nov. 29-30. I had been to New Orleans many times, mostly for Direct Marketing Association conventions, but I was not prepared for the moving impact of revisiting the city after Hurricane Katrina.

I felt the first indication of the effects of the storm immediately upon my arrival. The airport was strangely quiet, and American Red Cross volunteer stations were positioned throughout.

Since the attendees of the TIA meeting were executives from the travel industry, we received an incredibly warm reception from city and state officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. Their passion for their city and for rebuilding New Orleans was infectious. These men have worked tirelessly in attempting to bring about "normalcy" since the storm raged through the South on Aug. 29.

Steve gave us a personal tour of New Orleans including the suburban areas that were hit the hardest. The pictures on the news don't illustrate the personal tragedies. Whole neighborhoods are eerily unoccupied. Homes that were once occupied are now empty, with their possessions either washed away or piled high along the streets. The drivers of both taxis I took while there had lost their homes. Their pain was clear. But they love their city, and there was a sense of optimism to see people beginning to return to New Orleans.

The lieutenant governor joined us for dinner and gave a powerful and moving talk about his experience since Aug. 29. He is clearly determined to make people understand the profound impact this storm had on the lives of the people of New Orleans - from every socioeconomic class. There is no doubt that under his leadership, New Orleans not only will rebuild, but will be more alive than ever.

Bourbon Street was unusually calm. The good news is that the French Quarter is back in operation. Most hotels, restaurants and jazz clubs are open for business and alive. In fact, a magnificent jazz band played for our group at Pat O'Brien's. Cafe Du Monde was back serving its famed beignets - no trip to New Orleans is complete without a beignet (or two).

There is no doubt that this tragic storm wounded New Orleans. But without question, the heart and soul of the city are still there - the history, the food, the music and, most of all, the people. And based on the passion, zeal and determination of its people, New Orleans is open for business. Spread the word.


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