The good news is that 2002 is a go. That's the word as of late September from a panel of meetings industry veterans who assembled at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco to discuss the repercussions of September 11. The immediate future, however, was far less heartening.
Stories of group cancellations, no-shows, and the virtual disappearance of business travelers were widespread among the 65 San Francisco hotel and convention bureau representatives and local meeting planners at the Summit, which was organized by Pacific Agenda, a San Francisco meeting and event company.
Eleven days after the worst terror attack in U.S. history, panelist Dan Gannett, business development manager, McGettigan Meetings Plus, said his company was flooded with cancellations for the 30- to 60-day period after September 11. However, no long-term impact was emerging, and he had no cancellations for 2002.
“There will be a period of grief, but travel will pick up again. There will be a recognition of the need for face-to-face business. … Meetings are going to continue,” he said, adding that it is only a question of where. Some customers, he predicted, will opt for local gatherings, some will go regional, and others will move readily back into familiar cross-country patterns.
Like McGettigan, Maritz Travel Co. has seen cancellations for the third quarter of 2001, but none for 2002, said panelist Anette Falkner, senior account executive for Maritz's business group travel. She reported “substantial” international cancellations in Europe and Turkey, but said that other overseas destinations are maintaining their bookings. For example, an Australia program scheduled for March 2002 is going ahead as planned. Falkner predicts more travel to new and (for Americans) exotic destinations such as South Africa and Asia, especially for incentive programs.
According to Sally Henderson, director of convention sales for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, her city had some initial cancellations, including the California Dental Association, which was moving into Moscone Center the day of the attack. But many other scheduled events are still being held. “We are seeing cuts in the numbers of attendees,” she said. “Most groups are saying that international attendance will be down.” Henderson expects an even larger drop in accompanying spouses, family members, and friends.
Suzanne Parsons, vice president of conferences and events for Wells Fargo Bank, is trying to cut down onby adapting to her attendees' travel concerns. Because so many people don't want to fly, she is pushing alternative transportation, including bus charters and carpools. Next year, she expects 250 meetings to run through her office, and, right now, “All of 2002 is a go.” Panelists agreed that the next few months will be extremely difficult, and many felt that a get-back-to-business approach was their best option. “It will come back to the resilient nature of this country,” Falkner said. “But in the meantime, it's going to be very hard for some people.”