As a nation paralyzed with horror watched the destruction of New York's World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon September 11, people throughout the meeting industry united almost instantly to help colleagues in need. One vital source of information was the Meeting Industry Mall listserv (www.mim.com), where participants traded news on people's whereabouts, offered to contact others' loved ones when phone lines became jammed, and opened their homes to those stranded by the shutdown of U.S. airspace. Listserv members also started a shuttle relay service, with members offering to drive stranded colleagues a few hours, who then would be picked up by other members, and so on, to bring them home step by step.
“The outpouring of good will from the list was one of the most amazing displays of giving I have ever witnessed, or probably will ever witness,” said Joan Eisenstodt, the list's facilitator.
Those attending meetings outside the country were not as fortunate; some were stranded for days. Bob Pelletier, manager of the U.S. subsidiary of CMA Microdialysis, was at aand strategic goal-setting meeting at the company's headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, when the United States was attacked. Although he was the sole U.S. citizen at the meeting, his Swedish colleagues shared his shock and horror, and rallied around him with words of support. They decided to continue the meeting, but cancelled the elaborate closing celebration out of respect.
“Being away from my family and my country right now is torture,” he said from his hotel room in London, which was as far as he had gotten by press time. “But the people here have been incredible.”
The hospitality industry rallied with a show of support, both from hotels near the tragedies and those thousands of miles away. The Sheraton Suites Alexandria, just across the town line from the Arlington, Va., Pentagon, provided rooms at no cost to SWAT teams working around the clock at the Pentagon, reported general manager John Varghese. They also offered free rooms to Salvation Army workers. When the hotel asked for volunteers to provide 200 sandwiches for the Salvation Army, more than 75 employees stepped forward, providing enough food for 1,000 people. In Denver, Colo., the Convention and Visitors Bureau set up its housing department to be a clearinghouse for people who were stranded by the shutdown of Denver International Airport, reported spokeswoman Jill Strunk. Staff gathered information on available rooms at all metro and surrounding area hotels, and on local citizens who were willing to open their homes to travelers who couldn't afford to stay in a hotel.
Immediately after the attacks, Meeting Professionals International mobilized its 48 U.S. — based chapters to assist local American Red Cross chapters. The organization set up a “crisis care and support” section for its members at its Web site, www.mpiweb.org.
Many Meetings Cancel
News of thousands of meeting cancellations spread quickly following the tragedy. Chuck Lane, assistant vice president of public relations and meeting services for Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky., said his firm canceled a business program in Green Bay, Wis., for 138 national sales managers that was scheduled for September 13 and 14. Since people were coming in from across the country, Lane said, his firm was concerned attendees would not be able to get flights into Green Bay, a small air-service market.
“In boardrooms nationwide, executives are doing a lot of soul-searching with respect to corporate travel,” Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security International, Houston, which advises Fortune 500 companies on domestic and international travel safety, told the Baltimore Sun. “Many of our company's clients are putting off travel indefinitely,” he explained.
Others refuse to. “I'm not cancelling the meeting I have tonight, nor the convention I leave for tomorrow,” reported Ciritta B. Park, CAE, vice president, Able Management Solutions Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “If we let terrorists stop us in our living, they have won.”
Beth A. Cooper-Zobott, director, conference services, for Chicago-based Equity Residential Properties, shared some basic airport security tips for business travelers in light of the terrorist attacks:
Get through the unsecured portions of the airport (airline counter areas, parking lots, and so forth) as quickly as possible.
Move through security efficiently by having your ticket and driver's license or ID in your hand, with all items ready to hand to security (such as jewelry, and so forth) so you don't cause a bottleneck of people that would be tempting to “hit.”
Join an airline club so that you're in common areas of the airport as little as possible.
In the airport gate area, sit away from windows and glass, with your back up against a wall and no one behind you.
Dress inconspicuously so that you don't draw attention to yourself, your wealth, or your nationality.
Never use your business card as your luggage tag. That advertises that you are an executive working for a major U.S. company (thus a possible kidnapping target).
“Unfortunately, what has become a way of life for many around the world will have to be quickly learned by those of us for whom airline travel is the norm rather than the unusual.” Cooper-Zobott said.
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