How can anyone predict the impact the war on terrorism will have on meetings, conventions, and business travel? "It’s like trying to gaze into a crystal ball while it’s rolling," was how Laurie Armstrong, spokesperson for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, put it. Yet there are strong indications that meetings and business travel are gaining momentum. "Americans thrive on disasters. This is a nation of positive thinkers and forward-lookers," said Max Starkov, a travel and hospitality consultant for New York-based Point Blank Interactive. "This unique mentality has helped the U.S. overcome the devastating effects of natural, economic and political disasters [in the past]. No doubt we are witnessing a similar situation in New York and across the country." Hit hardest, of couse, have been New York and Washington, DC. "It’s starting to come back a bit, but at this point that no one knows when people will feel better about traveling," Jonathan Tisch, president and CEO of New York-based Loews Hotels, told CMI. "People will come back, though. My gut feeling is that with the holidays coming up, you’ll see things start to return to a more normal level." Loews, which operates four hotels in New York and two in Washington, D.C., and other hotels in New York has made a major effort to ensure a return to whatever "normal" may mean for future meeting business, as well as to minimize losses of events scheduled for weeks following the attacks. "We’ve established a policy whereby anyone can postpone a meeting scheduled between September 12 and November 30 with no penalty, as long as the event is rescheduled before December 31, 2002. I’d say that’s pretty much in the middle of what other hotels are doing in terms of liberal versus conservative policies," said Charlotte St. Martin, the company’s executive vice president of marketing. "So far, more than 50 percent of our meetings that postponed have rescheduled, and most of those meetings rescheduled for before March 2002."
News was similar regarding the attacks’ impact on meetings business in other cities. In Philadelphia, four conventions scheduled to before the end of September were directly affected. According to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Primavera systems, scheduled for Sept. 13-15, cancelled outright; National Rural Water (Sept. 15-20) voted to go on with its event, but cancelled because attendees could not fly in due to the air-travel shutdown; the Corporate Council on Africa (Sept. 16-20) posponed its U.S.-Africa Summit to Oct. 30; and Bentley Systems (Sept. 21-28) tentatively rescheduled for June 2002.
The bureau reported that remaining 2001 events were holding to their schedules, as were all events scheduled for 2002—including 27 citywide conventions.
In Orlando, where Disney World was immediately shut down when news of the attacks reached Florida, there was "a wave of cancellations," according to Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau President William Peeper.
"The encouraging thing is that more than 60 percent of the groups who cancelled are now in discussions about rebooking—obviously, we’re very pleased about this," Peeper said. "We’re also pleased by some early indicators that attendance may be finding its way back. It’s easy for us to get trapped in protracted doldrums—it’s and understandable and appropriate mindset—but there are positive out there. I don’t want to sound insensitive—I’ve shed more than a few tears over this thing—but I hope we as a country don’t become hostages to a tragedy that’s impacted us all so enormously. We’ve got to get back to the ‘new normal,’ whatever that might be."