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Don't Expect Boston Bombings To Thwart Industry Momentum

Tuesday May 14th, 2013 - 12:40AM


Dennis Nessler, Editor, Hotel Business

Having been in the lodging industry for roughly a decade now, I’ve covered more than my share of conferences and panels, and I’d be hard-pressed to think back to a single session where I haven’t heard the phrase, “barring any terrorist attacks or unforeseen circumstances.” In most cases, it was said in reference to momentum that the economy and, more specifically, the lodging industry, had been gaining.

Since 9/11, I think everyone in the industry has been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop and, unfortunately, it finally did last month in the deadly attacks in Boston. While there have been devastating terrorist attacks globally, the bombings during the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured hundreds represented the most significant attack in the U.S. in more than a decade.

Granted, when it comes to the recent tragedy,therearemanymorepressing questions than what will the impact be on the hotel business, as well as travel and tourism in general. However, for this industry, there could be nothing worse than consumers scaling back travel plans for fear of their safety, particularly at a time when, by most accounts, the industry is in for a pretty good ride in terms of performance.

The good news is—for better or worse—as a nation, we seemed to have developed a resilience to
these attacks or, at least, to the threat of attacks. In fact, while the stock market plunged in the immediate aftermath of the event, it had effectively recovered by the following day.

But there’s more to worry about now than just how our citizens respond. How do world travelers
view the United States as a destination? Do they feel safe coming here? After all, underpinning all of the optimism for the lodging industry in the coming years is the expectation that global tourism will generate a huge spike in demand. Any significant reduction in travel to the U.S. could have devastating effects on not just the lodging industry, but the economy in general.

So what can hotels do to make both domestic and international travelers feel safer? Of course, there’s the obvious measures like beefed-up security, bag checks, metal detectors, etc. However, at the end of the day, this is both counter-intuitive to the very notion of hospitality and not proven to be all that effective anyway. All they can really do is be ready to respond and serve the community the way the hotels in Boston did.

For example, the Fairmont Copley Plaza, which was a mere two blocks from the explosions, set up a room for guests to relax and get in touch with loved ones. In addition, after race officials closed off the last mile of the race, runners were directed to the Sheraton Boston, where the hotel provided towels and water.

The recent tragedy reminds us how vulnerable we are to such acts, but it also reminds us that hotels are more than a place to sleep; they represent the very fabric of the community. They are a safe haven for both visitors and locals alike during times of crisis.

There’s no telling what the impact of an attack like this can mean to a country, or a city, for that matter, psychologically and in many other ways. However, my hunch is the people of Boston and the U.S.
will get back to business, and the posi- tive momentum the industry has built willnotbethwarted.