After all New Orleans has been through following Hurricane Katrina, it’s no wonder hospitality community leaders there are so tuned in to giving back.
But one would be hard-pressed to find a
more dedicated community member than
Michael Smith, general manager of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, who with his team
members rose to the occasion during the
cataclysmic hurricane and has set a frantic
philanthropic pace following the storm.
The 40-year Hyatt veteran always placed
a premium on charitable endeavors, but
like with most everything in the Crescent
City, Hurricane Katrina is the defining event
upon which everything else is measured.
“If you want to talk about service in its
purest form, from August 29 to December
15  we were at ground zero—
headquarters for everybody and the only hotel
at one point that had power,” Smith said.
“Thirty-thousand people that were evacuated from the Superdome had to come
through the Hyatt, so we had to facilitate
that as well. The mayor lived in the hotel
and Homeland Security and utility company Entergy also had headquarters in the
hotel, along with the National Guard.
“I look back at it and if there was one or
three significant events in my life, Katrina
was certainly one,” he added.
The hotel officially reopened six years
later following a $275 million overhaul, with
a charity fete that raised $5.7 million for the
decimated Lower Ninth Ward.
“Since then we’ve done a lot,” he said. “The
generic phrase is ‘It’s the right thing to do,’
but it’s economic development as well. We
do all these good things—the largest event
now is United Negro College Fund Ball. I’ve
chaired that for five years and raised over $8
million for more than 1, 100 students.”
Other efforts include underwriting the
Human Rights Campaign Gala Dinner for
the LGBTQ-rights organization. Additional
LGBTQ support includes the sponsorship of
an event for the National Gay and Lesbian
Chamber of Commerce and a fundraiser for
victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and
hosting the 2018 Pride Prom.
And New Orleanians always like a big,
festive party, so the hotel also contributes
by becoming “the center of the universe
for all things social or gala or fundraisers,”
Through Hyatt’s “Higher Purpose”
program, employees of the hotel have
donated more than 5,000 hours of community service and aided elementary/middle
school KIPP Central City through supplying healthy food and snacks for children to
take home on weekends; donated a $10,000
grant scholarship to provide students
resources in the disciplines of science,
technology, engineering and mathematics;
and the donation of chairs, bicycles, books
and school supplies.
Other Higher Purpose commitments have
been made to 100 Black Men of New Orleans, St. Jude’s, Ronald McDonald House,
Habitat for Humanity and donating more
than two tons of Mardi Gras beads to local
foundations such as the Salvation Army.
Of course, all of Smith’s good works add
up to a significant time investment apart
from performing his job as general manager.
“Almost every weekend I have something
to do until Thanksgiving,” Smith said, “and
I’m also probably going to wear a tuxedo
Here is another organization making a difference:
// Hard Rock International went PINK for the brand’s 19th
Annual PINKTOBER campaign. Starting in September
and continuing throughout
October, guests were invited
to join the fight against breast
cancer at Hard Rock cafes,
hotels and casinos worldwide. Proceeds from the
PINKTOBER campaign will
benefit research and awareness-driving efforts for Hard
Rock Heals Foundation, which works with numerous
charity partners worldwide.
By Tyler Davidson
HYATT REGENCY NEW ORLEANS
DO YOU KNOW ANY INDUSTRY CHANGE-MAKERS? CONTACT KATE.CRIPE@MEETINGSTODAY.COM
Higher Purpose: A charitable force of nature
Making Difference a
KIPP CENTRAL CITY