spoke with Terry Dale, executive vice president, and Nell Barrett, senior vice president, communications, NYC & Company, just days after the attack to get the convention and visitors bureau’s inside perspective on how New York City pulled together to handle the September 11 crisis. And how it plans to face the challenges to come.
AM: What impression are you left with in the wake of this horrible tragedy you experienced last week?
Barrett: Obviously, it was a tragedy and shock of unbelievable proportions, but what has been so incredible is the spirit of humanity, of compassion, of strength, and of worldwide support that surrounded New York.
Dale: People from around the world have been reaching out to us, asking what they can do in terms of raising money, or sending labor and supplies. We’ve received countless e-mails, calls, offers of help of every variety from around the world.
AM: How did New York’s hospitality industry respond to the crisis?
Barrett: The downtown hotels have played a key role to aid relief workers. It’s challenging in terms of power and access, but they are playing a pivotal role in working with the community downtown.
Dale: The midtown hotels also have been incredible. One of their first priorities was to transfer guests staying downtown immediately to the midtown locations. They set up ballrooms and meeting rooms with cots for those who no longer had rooms in the downtown area. It was a massive undertaking, but they just dropped everything and did what needed to be done.
Barrett: The hotels all have banded together in a unified effort to offer special "distressed" rates and services to help those in need. They are offering complementary rooms for victims’ families, and for emergency rescue workers. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. Restaurants, from fast-food to the more up-scale establishments, are doing everything they can to get food delivered to rescue central points and to hospitals. Retailers are providing clothing and toiletries for rescue workers, victims, and families. The sight-seeing ferries helped transport people back and forth to New Jersey. I can’t single out any specific suppliers, because everyone did everything possible to help.
AM: How did you handle the groups that were meeting in New York at the time?
Dale: We wanted to reach out immediately to those groups that were presently in the city to find out what we could do to assist them, such as helping a small corporate meeting get buses to drive them to their home town of Toronto. But some of the groups helped us more than we helped them. For example, there was a group of doctors and nurses, sponsored by the University of Washington in Seattle, meeting at the Brooklyn Marriott. As soon as they heard about the attacks, they adjourned their meeting and all the doctors and nurses became part of the rescue mission. That was the kind of rallying spirit we experienced.
AM: Have you had many groups cancel their meetings, both short- and long-term?
Dale: For the most part people who have meetings over the course of the next two weeks are cancelling because of the transportation issues. But when we look at our October calendar, people are still saying to us that they wanted to be here. One group that was booked for mid-October not only still want to meet—they also want to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Twin Towers Fund that was established by New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani to aid the families devastated by the loss of a loved one, particularly those involved in the search and rescue efforts of the World Trade Center. That’s a universal theme we’ve been hearing. Groups like PCMA and ASAE got to us almost immediately, saying that they want to reach out to their memberships to raise funds to help.
For meetings through the rest of this year, we let them know that we’ll be their point of contact. They will have a lot of questions, and we’re going to the do the best we can to provide them with timely information. We did want them to hold back on making any quick decisions until they had all the information. If they should decide they wanted to reschedule, then that we’re here to help them do that. People were appreciative of the fact that less than 24 hours after the event, we were in contact and telling them that we want to work with them.
AM: What message would you most like to send to the public at this time?
Barrett: People are asking if they should still come to New York. One of the resounding messages we want to get out there is that now more than ever, every visitor counts. We stocked our Web site (www.nycvisit.com) with hotline numbers, information on donations, hotels availability, all sorts of information. We also established a hotline, (888) 805-4040, people can call for immediate assistance, information on future visits, hotel and other accommodations, other hotline numbers, and how people can contribute to relief efforts.
There’s a real determination to get back on our feet as soon as possible. We are even more determined that we will be even stronger after this, that terrorism will not be able to achieve its desired effect here.