While there are no definitive reports yet on this first day of war with Iraq, news is beginning to trickle in about changes in corporate travel policies. And the word is that, just as they did after 9/11, companies are reacting to the war by keeping their employees home.
Reports from the field indicate that several large, whose attendees are employed by large corporations, have received a steady stream of cancellations from members who are willing to come, but their companies have banned all travel. Deborah Gaffney, director of conference planning with the Tax Executives Institute in Washington, D.C., says, "The cancellations are really rolling in today, regrettably. We are so disappointed, as our numbers were strong." She adds, "As I understand it from our members, the stress that companies went through when hundreds of employees were stranded for days after 9/11 is simply not something they wish to go through again." A hotelier who preferred to remain anonymous yesterday said she got a phone call from a client to cancel a meeting that’s two weeks out due to the war; this client’s company also is instituting a limit on company travel.
Also, as was the case after 9/11, international attendance seems to be dropping like a rock. One planner, who preferred not to be named, reports that an association conference of 15,000 international delegates, scheduled to begin this weekend, has seen entire "countries" of delegates pulling out. While she hasn’t had any U.S. attendees pull out of a conference beginning this weekend, another planner reports that her European participants also had to cancel due to company travel bans. A medical planner says that many of her perspective European attendees for a late-April meeting in the U.S. are waiting to see what happens with the war before registering—-her numbers are down 20 to 30 percent, with just 10 days to go before the block closes and the early registration deadline hits.
Some planners who are experiencing the bottom fall out of their meeting attendance say that hotels are working with them on any possibleissues, but they’re double-checking their cancellation clauses, just in case. One CVB executive says that she got a call from an association CEO who wanted her to help him ensure that all his hotel and convention center had clauses that would protect him in case of cancellation due to acts of war or terror. "While I helped him with this, I couldn't help wondering (but not aloud) why he or his conference planner hadn't thought about this protective clause long before now," she muses.
The general manager of a travel agency also reports that colleagues who work with meetings and incentives are getting massive cancellations for March and April programs. "People with May meetings are waiting to see right now, and as for the rest of the summer...right now everything is uncertain."