As the nation watched the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, paralyzed with horror, people in hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, and virtually every other segment of the meetings, hospitality, and travel industries wiped their eyes and went to work to do what they could to help the victims, the rescuers, and those stranded by the closure of all U.S. airspace. While reports of some price-gouging from hotels had emerged at press time—up to double the usual rates in some hotels in Austin, according to Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, the overwhelming majority of the industry reacted with compassion to a crisis beyond all imagining. Here are just a few examples.
o The Sheraton Suites Alexandria, located just across the town line from the Arlington, Va.-based Pentagon, provided rooms at no cost to SWAT teams working around the clock at the Pentagon, according to 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, including every manager in the hotel, stepped forward. They ended up with enough to feed 1,000 people—which covered the needs of Salvation Army, plus those of Red Cross workers who were doing a blood drive, with enough left over to send to a local homeless shelter.
o The Denver (Colo.) Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau set up its housing department to be a clearinghouse for people who were stranded by the shutdown of the Denver International Airport, according to Jill Strunk, the CVB’s public relations manager. The CVB corralled information on available rooms at all metro and surrounding area hotels, and also collected information on local citizens who were willing to open their homes to travelers who couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel. For the 8,000-attendee convention of the American Association of Otolargology, which was in town at the time, the CVB set up an information center at the convention center to help keep attendees up to date. Since most of the attendees were from Washington, D.C., and New York City, the CVB also helped facilitate contact with the Red Cross so they could get information about their loved ones back home.
o In addition to showing an outpouring of support for those affected by the tragedies, members of the MIMlist listserve (www.mim.com) offered their homes to stranded travelers, and those in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas volunteered to call local loved ones when relatives across the country couldn’t get through. The listserve members also started a shuttle relay service, with various members offering to drive stranded colleagues a few hours, who then would be picked up by another member, and so 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," says Joan Eisenstodt, the list’s facilitator. —Sue Pelletier