On Sept. 9, 2002, Travel Weekly published portions of a transcript of a roundtable discussion by industry leaders. We had invited them to exchange their views on the impact of 9/11 and the future of the industry.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and while it's important to pause and reflect on the impact of the events five years ago, it's also instructive to revisit the industry's vision of the future one year after its most cataclysmic setback.

Czech writer Milan Kundera compared predicting the future with walking in a dense fog. One can get a sense of things very close, but clarity drops off quickly. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see how obfuscated -- and, interestingly, how clear -- our view of the future was four years ago.

Katerina Pavlitova, who spoke at our roundtable as director of the Czech Tourist Authority, thought she saw a lasting trend.

"I believe 9/11 was a huge psychological shift that will have effects for years to come," she said. "It caused the impulse to stay home, be safe, be with your family and not go anywhere you might feel exposed."

She correctly identified two of the lasting (so far, at least) impacts of 9/11: The strengthening of the desire to be with your family and the need to be safe. What was apparently still in the fog was that the twin desires for more family time and for the feeling of safety were not in conflict when it came to travel. Intergenerational travel is a strengthening phenomenon.

Adam Aron, then the CEO of Vail Resorts and now on the board of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, observed: "Ten years from now, it could be that the structural changes in the U.S. airline industry are the biggest changes that occurred because of 9/11. It is certainly getting more difficult and more hassle-filled, and I don't see anything on the horizon that makes me think it's going to get more pleasant and easier to fly."

It's debatable whether airline restructuring will be remembered as the most significant consequence of 9/11. The government's assertion that there was a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and the subsequent invasion of Iraq will likely eclipse all other effects. But Aron hit a bull's-eye when he predicted a long life for the hassles associated with flying.

Hal Rosenbluth, then chairman and CEO of Rosenbluth International (now part of American Express), citing the public's dislike of uncertainty, urged: "Carriers that need to go bankrupt, go! Because that will remove uncertainty."

He went on to say that consolidation would lead to three groups of affiliated carriers: The first would be US Airways, United and America West, the second would be Delta, Northwest and Continental, and the third would be "American and I'm not sure who."

Bankruptcy certainly did come to some of the carriers he had mentioned, but that did not, in most cases, clear up the uncertainty. His very specific predictions on airline groupings came partly true with the merging of US Airways and America West, and since there is no statute of limitations on his predictions, we'll just have to wait and see about the others.

Michelle Peluso, then a senior vice president of Travelocity and now its president, said, "The fundamental question is: What are we doing as an industry to our pricing practices?" She was referring to the rampant discounting, abetted by the Internet, that resulted from the sharp downturn in travel. At the time, many people, myself included, wondered if this change was indeed "fundamental."

As it turns out, to our collective relief, what we were observing was fundamental in a different sort of way. The low prices turned out primarily to reflect the most basic law of supply and demand. Demand was so soft that marketing managers sought to find, in the words of then-Princess Cruises President Phillip Kleweno, "the intersection of greed and fear."

Hal Rosenbluth was perhaps seeing clearly when he said, "We all intuitively knew on that day that the world as we knew it had just changed."

With four years' perspective, it's easier to understand that the ways in which the world has changed have less to do with travel sales than with the way we think about the world, our lives, our friends and our families.

Remembering what happened five years ago gives us perspective on what's truly important in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, what seems to have changed most profoundly is the belief that those truly important things will never be as safe and secure as they felt before 9/11.

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To read the original report from 2002, see Travel execs see industry at a crossroads.


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