Travel numbers getting back to normal
The effects of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 still reverberate. Even five years later, from federal regulations to mandatory safety precautions, the tourism industry has felt the sting as heavily as any other.
Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said that although the Olympics helped Park City and Utah as a whole to dodge the tourism drought, the impact was felt.
"Obviously, things, like they did everywhere, pretty much came to a stop for a period of time," he said. "The biggest change in that area, that actually lingered for quite some time, was business travel. It’s still not the same. Leisure travel, albeit it took awhile, bounced back quite significantly."
"The Olympics did put a different play on it because we were five months away from the Games at the time," Malone continued. "We weathered through it, but probably not nearly as much as other destinations because we were welcoming the world."
He said that after the attacks the Chamber/Bureau projected that skier numbers for the 2001-2002 season would be down as much as 20 to 25 percent because of the Olympics shutting down many of the hills, combined with the 9/11 fallout.
When Ski Utah announced skier days only dropped by 9 percent from the previous year, Malone said they felt as if they had dodged a bullet.
Leigh von der Esch, director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said that at the time of the attacks there was a drop all across the nation in tourism.
"I remember five years ago there was plane after plane after plane lined up in storage because there weren’t the passengers and the flights that were needed," she recalled.
However, she said the airline and tourism industries worldwide and in Utah are back to where they were the summer of 2001. She also said Utah didn’t feel the impact as significantly as other states until about 2003, once the attention from the Olympics had worn off.
"Ours numbers were skewed unlike any other in the country because we had the Olympics," she said. "We had the good fortune of hosting them and people were going to come and people were going to watch no matter what, so we didn’t have that sharp downturn that other states saw. But our 2003 numbers were still off from pre-2001, although they’re finally back to that now."
The courage of the Olympic participants and supporters kept the numbers for the Games high, making the 2002 Games one of the most successful in recent history.
"I don’t recall that there was less participating in the Olympics because of 9/11," she said. "I think it was a combination of things. The athletes were brave and they were going to come and compete, and Utah has always been seen as a safe state. On top of that, the federal government was going to make sure Utah was safe and was seen as safe."
She said that one of the reasons it took five years to recover is that, at the time of the attacks, America’s economy was at a high point.
"The economy was booming in late 2000 and with the economy booming it pushed travel," she said. "But now that we’ve seen, sadly, 9/11 and other threats, we’re getting back slowly, and now with a different focus in traveling."
Numbers show, von der Esch said, that travelers are taking shorter, quicker trips closer to home. She said she thinks it is all tied to the initial shock of the attacks and wanting to get back home in a hurry in case of another emergency.
"People need to get away," she said. "They need to reconnect with themselves and reconnect with family members. They need to break the routine. I love what the Park City Chamber is doing with changing their marketing campaigns to focus on the quick-trippers from L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and San Diego."
Capt. Ed Thiel, head of the pilots union for Delta in Salt Lake City, said that roughly 25 percent of people stopped flying after the attack in 2001, and that one of the greatest impacts was to the airline workers.
"It was the catalyst that caused the bankruptcy of Delta, pay-cuts, termination of our retirement of plans and more," he said. "Now the new problem that has arisen, that is somewhat connected, is the war in Iraq and the cost of fuel."
Although the current numbers for airlines are leveling off as compared to the summer of 2001, ticket prices for flights still average 15 percent lower, he said. He also said that immediately after the attacks ticket prices plummeted, and were roughly equal with those of 1982.
Even though numbers are on the rise again, Thiel said the increased security is something travelers will have to learn to deal with because it’s not going away.
"This level of security is with us for good," he said. "They’re not going to be caught with their guard down again. We’re just getting to the point that Europe has been at for quite some time. After it happened, we all had to have criminal background checks, and that was only a post-911 thing. There’s a higher level of vigilance every day to know who and what is on your airplane.
"At some point, as passengers and as flight crew, you have to trust that the security is doing their job correctly, just like passengers have to trust that the pilot is doing his or her job correctly," he said. "It’s not something you can worry about on a day-to-day basis."
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