Science writer Charles Mann has penned two best-sellers. The first was called "1491" (Knopf, 2005). Its sequel, currently No. 8 on the New York Times nonfiction list, is titled "1493" (Knopf Doubleday, 2011). By skipping entirely the momentous year when Columbus landed in the New World, he helps readers understand the impact of the discovery rather than merely describing the discovery process.
I wondered if that approach might also provide insight into how the travel industry changed on Sept. 11, 2001. So I searched TravelWeekly.com for articles posted on Sept. 11, 2000, and also for Sept. 11, 2002.
Articles posted on that date in 2000 were overwhelmingly upbeat and optimistic.
Irish tour operators were ecstatic, with one company reporting that bookings for 2001 were running 80% ahead of 2000. It was felt that interest in "the Celtic Tiger: the strong Irish economy" led to the surge, bolstered by "the strong U.S. economy."
Another report detailed how Peru tourism was booming, having fully recovered from its depths during the Shining Path incursions.
ATA Airlines reported its fares jumped significantly the previous July; Midwest Express announced it was expanding into Kansas City; and OAG said its flight schedules were now optimized for Web-enabled Sprint-PCS phones.
California agents were celebrating the passage of a bill they backed that would force the state tourism board to provide links back to private sellers of travel.
Fast forward two years. The story that emerges is not nearly as cohesive, but a story emerges nonetheless.
CLIA issued a press release that in some ways mirrored the positive tone of reports from two years earlier. It touted that the number of cruisers increased 3.8% in the first half of 2002 compared with the same period in 2001.
But the explanation for that rise was found in another article that day which documented a roundtable discussion, organized by Travel Weekly, among industry executives. In the course of the conversation, then-Princess Cruises President Phillip Kleweno famously asserted the cruise lines had "found the intersection of greed and fear," and that activity was driven by "unprecedented" promotional pricing.
Indeed, roundtable participants observed that pricing integrity across the board had become a casualty of 9/11. And there was agreement that the airlines were still in the deepest crisis of any industry segment.
Even so, there were expressions of optimism.
"Our industry not only survived, but many of us have thrived during the most difficult times," said Hal Rosenbluth, then CEO of Rosenbluth International, which was later acquired by American Express. "I think we all -- I hate to use the expression -- but we do the ugly well."
Travel Weekly also conducted research posted that day showing that about half of the travel agents surveyed were optimistic. First reviewing the pre-9/11 environment, the poll found that, during the weeks prior to Sept. 11, 2001, 83% of travel agents had described the state of the travel industry as "positive." In the weeks following Sept. 11, 87% said the state of the industry was "negative," but a year later, the polling showed, 49% were in the positive column again.
Generally speaking, news articles lacked the overall optimistic tone of the articles two years earlier. There was a high-level resignation at Visit Florida, contention between the U.S. and U.K. in open-skies talks, a scandal at the Jamaica Tourist Board. Amazon filed a suit against Expedia, and Florida was preparing for a high-speed rail link between Orlando and Tampa (which was never to materialize).
There were signs of business-as-usual. Occidental Hotels announced plans to go into Cozumel; South Pacific Holidays launched an agent site; WorldTravel BTI released an online tool for small businesses; and Galileo acquired an Irish distribution partner.
The roundtable, news-of-the-day and research results tell a large part of the story. What was missing was an articulation of how our worldview changed between Sept. 11, 2000 and Sept. 11, 2002. For that, indulge me as I revive a quote from a 9/11-theme column I wrote that week:
"What we have [gained following 9/11] is a bit of perspective on what's truly important in the grander scheme of things. What we have lost is the belief that those same important things are safe and secure."
It accurately reflected my feelings at the time. And, sadly, to a large degree, it still does today.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.