Time to Look Ahead

As this issue comes out, we’re nearly halfway through 2009.

 Kenneth Shapiro
As this issue comes out, we’re nearly halfway through 2009. When I realized this fact the other day, I was a bit surprised. It feels like everyone is still talking about what kind of year we can expect in 2009 when, in fact, as most businesspeople are painfully aware, 2010 should now be the focus of our attention.

By many estimates, we’re also nearly nine months into this economic crisis — depending on when you choose to date its beginning — so it’s hardly premature to be asking our legislators what they plan to do to help the travel industry recover. After all, as a $740 billion industry, it’s probably fair to say it’s our turn for the congressional spotlight.

In fact, a group of industry leaders did exactly that recently in front of a Senate subcommittee. One of those leaders, Sam Gilliland, chairman and CEO of Sabre Holdings, one of the world’s largest travel distribution and technology companies and parent company of Travelocity, pointed out that, while the industry is managing to keep afloat with short-term deals, this model can’t be sustained.

“Just as airlines opted to park their planes in the desert rather than operate at a loss, hotels, resorts and cruise lines will eventually reduce their inventory of properties and ships if they cannot realize an acceptable return on these assets — something we’re already starting to see occur,” said Gilliland.

Gilliland laid out four areas where the government can be of assistance: energy policies, environmental policies, air-traffic control modernization and improved Department of Treasury travel guidelines. While other industry leaders may have focused on different areas, the point is that, throughout our industry, organizations are at a crucial time in their planning cycle. In order to participate in an economic recovery, companies large and small need to have assurances from Congress and the administration that they will not be forgotten in the rush to help General Motors or Bank of America or the next bailout candidate that comes along.

Short- and long-term changes are needed in our industry, and the time has come to address those before we all find ourselves in June of 2010, wondering how the situation got even worse. — K.S.