Terrorism and travel -- what do I do now?

Monday, October 15, 2001

I've pondered this article for a month -- America and the travel industry, both of which I dearly love, stand forever changed. I've spent 30 days listening to the voices of Americans filled with fear, uncertainty, and anxious about the future. I also realize emotions are currently highly sensitive, so writing a piece that neither upsets or offends is also a challenge.

I've compiled my own thoughts, those of my clients, inserts of a piece from travel attorney Rose Hache, and recently released of articles by David Wardell and Jane Levere about what the events of Sept. 11, mean to the travel industry.

Overreaction is contagious

The impact of the recent terrorist attack and its undeniable human calamities is still unfolding; however, please remember that the media gets paid for searching and embellishing human tragedy. Commentators, self-proclaimed experts, and the other voices make news and get ratings by suggesting we're all inches from the abyss. None of this is a sound basis for making life, travel or business decisions. For the airlines to get federal funds for a bail out, they had to paint the bleakest of pictures. The simple truth is the public feeds on the horrific and it sells newspaper and TV ratings.

Travel industry is resilient

History tells us recovery from downdrafts is almost always very quick. The most serious period of global travel disruption in the past 60 years was the Gulf War and even then travel grew 13.5 percent. I certainly am not comparing last month's event directly to the Gulf War, but once the crisis was over travel grew by jumps and bounds. Experts expect the same now.

Who we can learn from

My travel to Israel taught me about fear of the unknown versus reality. When I told friends, family and clients of my plans for a week in Israel, the reaction was mixed. Some thought I was nuts, others were fearful for my safety but the truth is not one single person encouraged me to go. Had I listened to the voice of fear and stayed home my life would not of been forever changed.

To this day my travel to Ireland, Scotland and Israel, countries with a history -- and some with a present time -- of internal struggle are the memories that I ponder as life-changing times. I take out my photo albums to remember a vacation of wonder and awe and dream of returning.

I really believe these trips even taken at a risk have contributed to who I am as a person and made me a better person and given me new friends. They have given me a view of balance and the ability to see there is a exciting world beyond my Missouri borders. These are the places I dream to someday return and share with my children.

The people of Israel and their national airline, El El, are an excellent example of life with a daily threat of terrorism. It is considered one of the safest airlines in the world, even though targeted highest for terrorist attacks. It separates clients at check-in by risk factor. The lowest being people of Jewish or natives of Israel decent. Second would be tourists of other nationalities excluding Middle East heritage. And then third being passengers of countries that are not allies of Israel.

New rules for the road

Remember, travel emergencies can occur at almost any time. There are many practical ways for you to prepare. Take phone numbers for all the people you plan to visit, as well as those of relatives, friends, neighbors with whom you can call in an embergency. Do not forget the emergency telephone numbers of banks and credit card companies. Keep your list separate from your wallet or purse. Take a copy of your passport and leave a copy at home.

Get a cell phone. In emergencies a cellphone can provide a vital link to family, friends or business associates. Our agency rents GSM phones.

Pack light. Less luggage means more mobility and flexibility. Keep some toiletries or change of clothing in a carry-on. The lighter the bags the quicker the search. Remember the essentials or medications, and bring a copy of your prescription, especially if you are a diabetic on insulin. You'll need it to board with a syringe.

Consider insurance. I can not tell you enough the value of travel insurance. It is so inexpensive compared to the value if you have a claim.

Use a good travel agent. In some instances making travel arrangements through an agency can offer more protection than buying a ticket from an airline or online. Last month's incident is a prime example. We received calls from panicked passengers all over the world who had bought tickets on-line or from the airlines direct who could not get on phones or get assistance. Our clients had daily contact and solutions, and they were all home on the first available flights -- protected at no cost.

The fact is life has no guarantees. That was the case before Sept. 11, but the reality has been driven home in painfully real way in a single hour. Statistics still show you are safer in the air than in a car. So if you want to live a little there is no better time than now.

Carolyn Kempf is president of Elite Travel Inc. in Cape Girardeau. (www.elitetravelinc.com, 573-334-1234 or 1-800-999-6003.

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