Silver Linings: BBC Post- Katrina

“You can take the people out of the city, but you can’t take the soul – that remains here.”-  TJ Fisher

No truer words could have been said about the people of New Orleans and the BBC team, who were determined to show the world that despite the mass devastation,  the city of New Orleans would not only be rebuilt but also reinvented.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Crescent City, leaving its wrath behind it. The BBC team was scattered in towns near and far.  All inbound business had ceased. Clients had cancelled in droves. Refunds were given. Indeed, the future of New Orleans’ critical hospitality industry was in extreme jeopardy.

“We all remember where we were as we watched the storm approaching our city via satellite,” said CEO& President, Bonnie B. Boyd, CMP, DMCP. “As the news covered the mass destruction and chaos, I began to wonder what would become of the heart of our culturally rich city, from our soulful music to our culinary artists,” she said. “While our hearts sunk as we watched the water rising, even in areas where some of our own resided at the time, I held on to my faith in my city and the resilient spirit that we all possess as New Orleanians.”

By mid-September, the BBC team was in the midst of planning outreach campaigns to assure the global meetings and travel industry that New Orleans would be on its way back. The future was unknown and dire indeed. Determined to get BBC operating again, the now reduced BBC team worked tirelessly to reopen their doors to the public, which they succeeded in doing just two months after the storm. What was to come for BBC going forward was unimaginable considering the uncertainty surrounding the city’s future.

For several years prior to the storm, every October, BBC partnered with one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies to stage live laser surgery by a renowned pioneer in ophthalmology whose clinic is located in Metairie, Louisiana. The sponsored live surgery was broadcasted via satellite to wherever the American Ophthalmologic Association (AOA)’s annual meeting was being held. Visiting physicians came from across the globe and the nation to participate in these sessions based in New Orleans.

After BBC reopened its doors, miraculously in early October, Bonnie received the call that would change the course of her company and the city that she adored. The pharmaceutical meeting planner who assisted in organizing the AOA live laser surgeries, jubilantly informed her that she was moving the surgery to Baton Rouge for mid-October and would require BBC’s partnership to secure accommodations, transportation and a final dinner for the visiting surgeons and physicians.  Of course, no accommodations were available anywhere in the Southern part of the state, but BBC team was not ready to give up.

In coordination with the Royal Sonesta New Orleans and Chef Paul Prudhomme, BBC welcomed 35 physicians to the Crescent City later that month. Rooms were secured, Chef Paul Prudhomme personally welcomed the physicians to his famous restaurant, K-Paul’s, and, in good New Orleans tradition, BBC gathered several refugee musicians in a marching band to form a moving and forever memorable “Secondline”. Little did the BBC team know that this event would be touted as the first corporate event back in New Orleans since Katrina. The boost that it gave to the hospitality industry was immense, and when the surgery broadcast to the AOH’s annual meeting in Chicago came to a close—the music of “When the Saints Go Marching In” was played and the entire auditorium full of attending physicians stood up and cheered.

In addition to being the first DMC to welcome visitors back to New Orleans, BBC took an active role in the rebuilding process by teaming up with local non-profits and corporate entities that were determined to be of assistance in the recovery and rebirth of the city. Expanding from this modest start, BBC became an active leader in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) /voluntourism movement, which swept through New Orleans in 2006 and beyond.

“Out of this experience, our industry not only nurtured but also contributed to the development the CSR movement that was growing exponentially in New Orleans,” said Bonnie. “One of our first pieces of business was a CSR event, the City Park Clean Up. To witness the steady rebirth of our city was unlike any other feeling I have ever experienced. Never had BBC felt more proud to be New Orleanian.”

BBC Give Back Day – St. Bernard Project: (from left to right) Office Administrator, Sarah Hamilton & Operations Manager, Jennifer Stanton

This iconic and symbolic first step not only demonstrated the importance of DMCs to the local industry, which attracted over 9.5 million in 2016, but also showed the world that nothing could dampen this amazing hometown and its extraordinary centuries-old spirit. Since then, BBC has welcomed nearly 1,150 companies (over half a million visitors) from around the world to the Crescent City and has hired over 270 myriad contractors.

Bonnie added, “We are truly honored to have been at the forefront of the city’s rebirth and cannot be more proud of the many talented and dedicated individuals, from locals to first-time visitors, who helped put New Orleans back on the map on such a global scale. It is truly an exciting time to be a part of the DMC industry in our great city, from the culinary boom to the social entrepreneur movement, we are living in a time of massive change and economic growth.”

What will the next 25 years bring?