News of meeting cancellations, especially for those scheduled for the weeks following the tragedy, is everywhere. Chuck Lane, assistant vice president public relations and meeting services for Humana, said his firm cancelled 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, within the necessary time frame. Luckily, Humana suffered no financial penalties from its vendors. "They all said they didn’t want to profit from this tragedy," said Lane, who called the response "unbelievable," considering how the loss could hurt local vendors.
While some hotels reacted to cancellations on a case-by-case basis, a few chains made a policy on the subject. For example, Six Continents Hotels (formerly Bass Hotels and Resorts) announced on its Web site that, even though none of its 23 hotels in the New York City and 31 in the Washington, D.C., were directly affected, due to the emergency situation, "there will be no cancellation fees or no-show charges imposed for those who cannot honor confirmed individual reservations through September 16, 2001." It also requested that people cancel any unneeded reservations in consideration of others who may be in need of hotel rooms in those areas. Radisson Hotels and Resorts president and COO Jay Witzel said that, in view of the circumstances, cancellation provisions for group and meeting reservations for meetings scheduled to begin on or before September 30, 2001 would be waived.
For those who have to cancel, they shouldn’t have too much to worry about—at least in the short term. Industry attorney Tyra Hilliard with the Atlanta-area firm Sumner & Associates, P.C., says "If there ever were an example of a ‘,’ this is certainly it. This kind of event is exactly the reason that "force majeure/termination" clauses are put into meetings . Also, hopefully groups have event cancellation insurance so they don't lose money on meetings that can't be held. Hotels have insurance, too. Insurance is what will hopefully make the fallout from this tragedy a financial break-even, if not a win/win, situation for people in our industry."
Jim Gannett, president and CEO of the Chicago Southland CVB, whose organization worked with other Chicago-area bureaus to develop an inventory of available rooms to help the thousands of people stranded at O’Hare and Midway airports, was at a meeting in Alsop, Ill., when AM spoke with him just days after the tragedy. "We thought about whether we should cancel out of respect for the victims and their families," he says. "We decided to go ahead. Only one person cancelled, and that was for unrelated reasons."
He speaks for many when he says, "We’re Americans, we’re strong, and we’re going to move forward. We’re not going to be brought to our knees by some fringe group that’s trying to inflict pain on our country. What we need is to get back to the unity of the travel and hospitality industry. We have to make sure the traveling public feels safe and secure. We had a horrible tragedy, but dammit, we’re going to bounce back."—Betsy Bair and Sue Pelletier