Fifteen days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, it was time for me to fly again. As my car approached the departure area of the American terminal at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I realized the trip from the airport turnoff had taken less time than usual. A short while later, when I went through the security checkpoint — which wasn't noticeably improved — I noticed uniformed U.S. marshals patrolling the area. Then I realized I was in need of a cup of coffee, and strolled over to Dunkin' Donuts. Reality had shifted here, too: There were only a few people in line ahead of me.
I was en route to the Ritz-Carlton Cancun Insurance Planners weekend, one of few late September meetings that hadn't been canceled. A week earlier, I had called Steve Carroll, Ritz-Carlton's regional sales manager and our host, and encouraged him to continue the planned weekend, even though it fell so soon after September 11. Steve assured me that while some meeting planners had canceled, the weekend was a go. Altogether, four insurance conference planners and three spouses got on planes to Mexico.
I really hadn't given the air travel much thought until I got on the plane and realized that it was only about one-third full. Conversations focused on the empty seats, but none of the passengers was visibly concerned about being in the air again.
My thoughts were on the remaining Trustmark meetings scheduled before year-end; one in Tucson, the other in downtown Chicago. I had visited with my internal clients immediately after the tragedy and called both properties to assure them that we would not be canceling.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun was delightful. Steve Carroll met us curbside at the airport. Chef Romine got us into the kitchen early the first day to help his staff prepare our lunch. We jet-skied and snorkeled, and took a yacht to an adjacent island for lunch. A visit to Tulum gave us ideas of how our groups could enjoy the destination. Excellent cuisine was a highlight of the final night's Mayan Jungle theme party.
I congratulate the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun hosts, who truly lived up to their reputation as “ladies and gentlemen.” These are tenuous times to showcase a hotel, even a gem of a resort in an outstanding destination. I also applaud my fellow planners who attended the weekend event. A special bond prevailed among all of us throughout the visit.
No human action will truly ease the tragic events of September 11. But we must continue to attend and promote meetings. This sends the message that we are in support of the hospitality industry and of our economy — and helps to temper the impact of the 9/11 tragedy. This too is a form of recovery and healing.