Exhibitors and visitors to the World Travel Market held at London's Earl's Court were ready to put a brave face on the state of their industry until news of the American Airways crash over New York's Rockaway district spread like wildfire through the exhibition halls.
The atmosphere in London had been lively and upbeat with most industry executives cautiously optimistic about the future. Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Pierre Jeanniot, told an "Industry Fights Back" press conference: "Flying today is probably safer than its ever been. We've got to put 11 September behind us."
The Travel Industry Association of America unveiled a $20 million advertising campaign -- which will be shown in the US, UK, Canada and Japan -- featuring President Bush encouraging Americans to travel. "The initial shock is over, it is now time to fight and win back our customers", said the president of the association, William Norman. Officials from the New York tourist authority manned a stand emblazoned with the American Stars and Stripes flag and a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The worst, they said in that gutsy, resilient way the world has come to know in recent weeks, was over. New York -- the city the locals refer to as the capital of the world -- was getting back on track. And they were convincing.
However, as news of the latest air disaster spread around the vast venue exhibitors' spirit's crumpled. For several hours it was unclear whether' the crash had been the result of another terrorist attack or a tragic accident. Given the series of coincidences anyone could have been forgiven for assuming the former. What was clear was that New York, which on the 11 September lost over 4,500 souls in the World Trade Centre attacks had lost a further 260, this time airline passengers and crew bound for the Dominican Republic.
More than 4,800 travel industry representatives from around the world gathered at Earl's Court, although the organisers confirmed there had been a few cancellations following the 11 September terrorist attacks. The World Tourism Organisation had announced it expected world travel to grow this year, although it has reduced its predicted rate of increase from between three to four per cent to one per cent or less. Private sector companies are less convinced and are privately saying the situation is far worse than anything the industry has yet had to face. Mass redundancies, closures and bankruptcies are predicted.
Middle East countries were well represented at Earl's Court in what was largely seen as a damage limitation exercise. The majority of states have already …