Post-Mumbai, Travel Industry Presses On

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November highlighted the importance of vigilance when it comes to security at hotels and event venues, and while hoteliers are stepping up efforts to protect attendees, members of the industry are, by and large, going ahead with events as planned.

A handful of corporate travel managers and show organizers have canceled programs in the short term, according to a variety of industry sources, but much like the days following the September 11 attacks, the industry is rallying by going ahead with business and even establishing charities to help those affected by the attacks.

"This was a reminder that we all have to be educated travelers," said Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. "But we haven't changed upcoming programs scheduled for India. These things can happen all over the world."

And in case they do, ACTE learned a valuable lesson with Mumbai, with members cracking down on suppliers with regard to security.

"Members are making sure that hotel blueprints are shared with authorities—fire, police, etc.—so if there's an emergency, those entities know how to find people," said Gurley. "Also, in many hotel emergencies, the fire alarm goes off, but, as we learned in Mumbai, if a guest is holed up in a room because of dangerous elements in the hallways, there needs to be a better system of communication. So members are asking [hotels] if there's an intercom system."

Philip Logan, GM of the Hyderabad International Convention Centre, an hour's flight from Mumbai, told MeetingNews: "The Hyderabad commissioner of police called a meeting with all hoteliers to discuss what should be done to improve security at our venues; the Novotel Hyderabad and Hyderabad International Convention Centre are planning significant upgrades to security equipment, [manpower], and training." But he added, "I am confident that the Mumbai attacks will not have a significant long-term impact on the growing MICE industry in India."

Thus far, Logan's assessment is spot on. Show organizer E.J. Krause & Associates has scheduled three 2009 shows in India, while Expomedia held its Professional Beauty & Fitness India show in New Delhi two days after the attacks in Mumbai. CMP Asia, which had to cancel a Nov. 28 event, rescheduled for early December.

Most ACTE members are forging ahead with their plans in India. According to an association spokesperson, 47 percent said they are just temporarily curtailing travel to the country until things stabilize, which, at press time, they expected to take only about two weeks. Another 28 percent said they're not changing their plans at all, and only 6 percent said they are ending travel to India indefinitely.

Assuming a position of "proceed with caution" is the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. "It's unsettling, but it's not going to change anything," said Steven Hacker, president. "It's a reminder, even to domestic cities, that we need to continue to emphasize the importance of security at any public gathering place."

And, in another sign of India's relatively unfazed meetings business, at press time, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, one of the Mumbai attack sites, was ready to reopen on Dec. 21.

Despite the speedy recovery, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces was fully aware of the damage that was done by the attacks, both structurally and to the psyche of travelers. "We dedicate our reopening to the city of Mumbai as affirmation of courage, resilience, and dignity," said Raymond Bickson, managing director and CEO.

In response to the public's outpouring of support for the hotel, Taj has established the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust, which will provide relief to all victims of the attack, including the families of those who were killed. Longer term, the trust will provide relief to victims of sudden acts of violence, natural disasters, and other events.

Meanwhile, at press time, a Dec. 21 reopening was planned for the Trident hotel. There was no word on its neighbor property, the Oberoi.

Originally published Jan. 5, 2009