Share this article

print logo


No other industry has been more directly impacted by the terrorist attacks than the travel and tourism industry. In addition to the more than 100,000 airline employees already laid off in the past two weeks, thousands of workers in the tourism industry, many of them the working poor -- bellhops, busboys, housekeepers, airport parking garage attendants -- are out of work as Americans cancel trips and stay home.

Tourism is the third-largest retail industry in the United States, generating $578.8 billion in revenue last year. It accounts for about one-tenth of all U.S. employment.

Last week at its biannual conference in Seoul, South Korea, the World Tourism Organization predicted 1.5 percent growth in worldwide tourism this year, despite the sudden drops after the terrorism attacks. The organization had expected a 3 percent gain before the attacks. Now it foresees double-digit drops in the last quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of 2002, compared with a year earlier.

For example, there's a glut of empty hotel rooms on both sides of Niagara Falls, and seasonal workers are being laid off six weeks earlier than normal as the usual flood of fall sightseers has slowed to a trickle.

Across the country, hard-hit travel agents are reeling; they've sent lobbyists to Washington, D.C., pleading for $4 billion in federal bailout money.

"There are 300,000 people working in travel agencies across the United States, and most of them have no income right now. That's more than all the airlines ever threatened to lay off," said William Maloney, chief operating officer for the American Society of Travel Agents, the world's largest association of travel professionals, with 26,000 members.

Deborah Poland, senior travel consultant at Koch Travel in Kenmore, where two part-time employees have already lost their jobs, said airlines and hotels need to drop their prices and aggressively promote travel.

"Flying is still the safest form of travel, but airlines should remove as many barriers to travel as possible -- drop advance purchase requirements, Saturday night stays -- if only for a month," she suggested. "We need to encourage people to travel again.

"Business has picked up this week, but it is still fragile," she added.

Bob Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, predicts travel will rebound by Thanksgiving.

Travel guru Tom Parsons, president and CEO of, said he believes American spirit -- and bargain basement deals -- will get the nation traveling.

Travel is also on President Bush's mind. "One of my concerns is that this terrible incident has . . . convinced many Americans to stay at home. And one of the keys to economic recovery is going to be the vitality of the (airlines)," he said as he announced additional airport security measures late last week.

Surprisingly, a survey conducted just two days after the attack showed that nearly two-thirds of American travelers say their travel plans will not be deterred by the events in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, according to a study by Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, one of the leading forecasters of the travel habits, preferences and intentions of Americans.

Sixty-seven percent of business travelers surveyed said the terrorist attacks are not likely to influence their plans for future business trips. The comparable number for leisure travelers was slightly lower at 63 percent.

"The survey results clearly signal that people intend to keep on traveling," according to Peter Yesawich, president and CEO. "Frankly, I am very surprised by the results. I thought they would be considerably more negative in light of the tragedy."

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has urged anyone who is interested in helping New York City on the road to recovery to come to New York, go to a Broadway show, enjoy a restaurant, start holiday shopping early.

"I have a great way of helping: Come here and spend money," the mayor said. "Go to a restaurant, a play -- you might actually have a better chance of getting tickets to 'The Producers' now, if you want to come here and see it. The life of the city goes on."

Tourism is the very lifeblood of the city, and it has dropped dramatically since the attack. Hotels, restaurants and much of the city's $25 billion tourism industry were already in a slump because of the softening economy. Following the attack, the drop was so sharp and the signs are so troubling that people in the industry fear that the problem may go on for weeks, if not months.

Of course, the reality is that it has probably never been safer to travel, and the airlines are beginning to offer a host of bargains in an effort to lure back passengers.

The vast majority of people killed on Sept. 11 were not traveling -- they were simply working. No one would suggest that we stop working. And we should not stop traveling. To do so allows the terrorists a victory.

"Travel is one of America's cherished freedoms. Unfortunately, it took a crisis to show the degree to which the travel industry is woven into America's economic and cultural fabric," said William S. Norman, president and CEO, Travel Industry Association of America.

"Just as Americans would allow no one to infringe on our freedom to speak our minds or to keep us from our centers of worship, we cannot allow terrorists to impede our freedom to visit those we love, tour the nation's landmarks with our children or do the nation's business.

"The airlines are flying, lodging establishments are open, parks and attractions welcome us. We all know that we cannot and we will not bow to terrorists' dreams of an America too frightened to leave our homes," he said.

Veteran travel writer and editor Arthur Frommer reaffirmed his position that travel was an essential part of a civilized life.

"That belief is confirmed by the decisions of countless millions of people in recent years to travel extensively to international locations. We are the first generation in human history that now visits other continents as casually as people used to go to a neighboring village. Prior to the tragic events of Sept. 11, it seemed in fact that the distinction between domestic and international travel was gradually being obliterated, that people were going to London as easily as they once went to Los Angeles."

Frommer calls travel a basic human right.

"Travel is the way we educate ourselves about the world, observe the realities of life in other places, gain the knowledge we need to make important judgments about new social measures and our own nation's foreign policy," he added.

Frommer concludes that "if you share these views about the importance of travel, you will not remain stifled at home. You will not permit your life to be narrowed by close-minded fanatics. You will continue to pursue and enjoy a civilized life, of which travel is an essential part."

Ann Arbor, Mich., based travel photographer Dennis Cox offers this insight:

"I would never consider myself brave. Nor would I consciously consider doing anything remotely reckless. I will continue with my normal plans to travel. It's my job, and it's what I love to do. With all the flights in the world on one day, what are really the chances that the plane I choose will be hijacked? I believe that statistically I'm still more likely to be killed by a drunken driver.

"The future is always uncertain. I will not let the terrorists disrupt my life. I will not participate in their diabolical 'jihad' by accepting the fear they are spreading. Freedom must not be surrendered to the terrorists, for that is their aim."

Novelist Francine Prose, writing in the New York Times about travel in the wake of the attack on America said:

"We will -- we will have to -- keep traveling. To do so is not merely a matter of desire, of professional obligation or private indulgence. It's also, at this point in history, a sort of moral obligation. Of course, it's a cliche to say that letting ourselves be frightened into altering our behavior means that we have allowed the terrorists to achieve their objectives. But, like so many cliches, it contains more than a grain a truth.

"In the scheme of things, mustering the nerve to get on a plane and go somewhere seems like a very small and nearly insignificant test of personal courage. Yet we owe ourselves and each other this insistence on some sort of normalcy, these tiny, quotidian signs of resolve and resilience, these utterly ordinary and unremarkable journeys from place to place that -- like it or not, and through no will of our own -- have become acts of defiance."

Hawaii based travel writer and photographer Bob Bone, who spent time in the '50s as a photographer for the former Buffalo Courier Express, believes: "It's a matter of mathematical odds, as far as I am concerned. The chances of being on a hijacked plane or of any other personal terrorist disaster while traveling still remains less than that of being struck by lightning or bitten by sharks. That's what I'm telling those who ask.

"As a little time goes by, I think we won't be quite as afraid of these things as we may be now."

The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) is North America's largest association of professional travel communicators with more than 1,500 members from around the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Mexico. SATW was concluding its annual meeting in Bermuda when the terrorists struck. Dozens of members were stranded on the island, some for more than a week.

Martin Hintz, president of SATW, said: "The concept of travel, although battered and bruised by faceless terrorists, is still as viable now as it was prior to the catastrophe. Families want to be together. Business still needs to be conducted.

"For these reasons, plus an infinite number of other personal deliberations, travel remains important to our international psyche. Yes, there will be changes in how we get from place to place.

"Yet we will still go. And that is our victory."

DEBORAH WILLIAMS is a freelance writer who specializes in travel and tourism. She is the author of three travel books on New York State.