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JACKSON, Miss. – Your daughter’s wedding and reception are scheduled at one of the best hotels in town. Rooms are set aside for out-of-town guests, and everything is under control. Suddenly the hotel calls. Sorry, but a fire just destroyed the building and the hotel won’t be back in business until August. Oh, by the way, with that major hotel closed all the other local facilities are posting “No Vacancy” signs. Multiply your panic tenfold or more, and you have an idea of what hit the Mississippi Credit Union Association when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Beau Rivage and other hotels and casinos on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Tom McWilliams, MCUA senior vice president, explains the association was in the second year of a four-year contract with the Beau Rivage. In fact, McWilliams had four meetings scheduled there this year he has been forced to relocate. The largest is the MCUA annual convention. Was it tough to find another place? “It was unreal,” McWilliams answers. “Everybody in the state of Mississippi was doing the same thing. All the other associations had to rebook. That made it even tougher. Because of the size of our meeting – about 750 to 800 people requiring 500 rooms – there was nothing available in Mississippi.” The situation was made even tougher because hurricane evacuees and disaster workers are still housed in many of the hotels that are open. So for the first time ever the association convention has been moved out of state. It will be held May 1-3 at the Hilton Sandestin Resort in Destin, Fla. Although the meeting can be held, McWilliams notes even that alternative isn’t perfect. “Even though it’s an ideal location in many ways, we’re not getting an ideal schedule. Normally our program runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Now we’ll meet on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We’re not sure how many people are going to be able to change their plans. Also, instead of a two and a half or three hour trip to Biloxi people will be looking at a six-hour drive.” Potential attendees do seem to be accepting the change well. Yes, they wanted to keep the money in Mississippi, but when the association explained the search it had conducted for alternatives, they realized there wasn’t much choice. Unfortunately, the Hilton Sandestin does pose higher food and room costs than the Beau Rivage. “There’s really nothing we could have done in advance,” McWilliams says. “There’s no way to doublebook an annual convention and have backup. You just have to go with what’s dealt.” -

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