- September 12, 2021
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Twenty years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Kansas City travel and hospitality companies are in the middle of another disaster scenario with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The two events share parallels — and differences — and the experience from 9/11 offers some lessons that prove helpful today.
In 2001, travel came to a standstill for several months, and hotels emptied as people canceled trips. Last year, the pandemic brought life to a halt, and the recovery remains in the beginning stages.
“I think the difference in this between 9/11 was this has just gone on so much longer than anyone would have anticipated,” Acendas Travel CEO Brent Blake said.
Acendas is a travel management company that specializes in corporate travel solutions and customized travel planning. The company never lost more than 33% of its revenue after the 2001 terrorist attacks. But the pandemic slashed revenue by 90% for more than six months.
After 9/11, Acendas implemented a disaster plan with three categories: green, yellow and red. A loss of 25% of revenue puts the company in the yellow category and cuts hours, travel and entertainment expenses. Acendas dips into the red category if revenue drops more than 33%, which results in furloughs and layoffs.
“Having had that laid out ahead of time, before the disaster came, really kind of gave us a road map for what to do when we need to do it,” Blake said, “Furloughs and layoffs and cost reductions, things like that, are tough decisions. But we have the plan in place, and we enact it.”
Although Acendas spent much of 2020 in the red zone, revenue crept up during 2021 to 65% of 2019’s revenue by July.
Cynthia Savage, vice president of the Raphael Hotel Group, pointed out a big difference between the aftermath of 9/11 and the pandemic: After the terrorist attacks, groups still gathered, and business travel continued, though at lower levels.
“There’s a reduction, and then there’s a termination of business, which is different,” she said.
Several months ago, Blake was bullish on the return of air travel, but the surge of the delta variant has tempered his confidence.
“We’re now seeing enough of the cancellations and changes that we’re not expecting this strong fourth-quarter vacation like we were 30 days ago,” he said.
Travel and hospitality adapted to accommodate both crises. After the terrorist attacks, airport security and airplanes were permanently altered.
Likewise, some changes made during the pandemic probably will stick around, Blake said.
Travelers now want more information about health, safety and sanitation policies before they travel. Online, self-service and contactless travel experiences will continue to gain popularity.
Savage said hotels moved toward digital room keys and fresher, farm-to-market dining options.
“It’s going to take years to rebuild the hospitality industry,” Savage said. “We are optimistic that within a couple of years, the business levels will return.”