From flyer miles to relief funds, travel industry steps up to plate

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NEW YORK -- As the horror of Katrina unfolded last week, the travel industry reacted quickly to set up fundraising initiatives for disaster relief and recovery for the victims in the Gulf Coast.

By press time, more than 50 organizations, associations, trade groups, hotel firms and individual properties, tourism boards, visitor bureaus, cruise lines, airlines and car rental companies had stepped to the plate with offers of assistance, and more were coming in at a fast clip.

The efforts ranged from financial contributions from the proceeds of garage sales and online auctions to offers of free housing, SUVs and buses, even donations of frequent flyer miles and hotel guest award points.

Several companies, including Northstar Travel Media, parent company of Travel Weekly and other publications, are collecting and matching employee donations to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief.

Airlines, including American (www.aa.com), Continental (www.continental.com/onepass/oDonateMiles.asp), and United (www.united.com) are awarding bonus miles to their frequent flyer members who contribute to relief organizations.

In addition, Continental and United are each donating one million miles to help meet the travel needs of relief workers.

Air Tran Airways provided links on its Web site (www.airtran.com) to allow users to access the sites of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Other fundraising efforts include:

  • Auto Europe is pledging $5 for each booking made by a travel agent through Dec. 31 toward a relief¬† fund for agents in need of assistance in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

  • ASTA established a hurricane help page at www.astanet.com/hurricane help, where ASTA members in need of assistance can have their requests posted.

  • Sandals is donating funds to the Red Cross on behalf of Katrina victims, as is La Quinta Hotels (www.lq.com), while Starwood Hotels (www.starwoodhotels.com) has also set up a relief fund.

  • The National Tour Association set up a Hurricane Katrina Update page on its Web site (www.ntaonline.com) for its members and helped provide motorcoaches to evacuate victims from New Orleans.

  • Hilton Hotels set up a program for members of its Hilton HHonors guest reward program to donate points in increments of 10,000, which represents a $25 donation, to the American Red Cross, by E-mailing [email protected].

  • The Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association will donate the proceeds from an island-wide garage sale organized by the hotels and members of the tourism community. Similar initiatives are under way by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association.

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which estimated that 30 of its 77 branches in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area were destroyed or severely damaged, donated $1 million to the Red Cross.

  • To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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