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EVENT REPORT

New York Still Hosts Big Meetings—Tentatively

With the country at war and many people worried that New York could be a potential target for terrorists, the city's hospitality and event industry is facing a challenge it has known all too well since September 11, 2001: convincing meeting and event planners to bring large groups to New York. While numerous companies cancelled trips to the city immediately after war broke out in Iraq, New York destination management companies report that planners are still booking events here—tentatively.

“A lot of people think New York is a [potential terrorist] target, and they don't want to be there,” says Empire Force Events president and partner Jaclyn Bernstein. Some of her clients have cancelled all international travel and trips to New York for their employees.

In the past, dips in international travel have helped the city's tourism industry—companies often replace overseas trips with jaunts to New York—but the terrorism scare may limit that effect. Bernstein originally had a major car dealership move one of its trips from Spain to New York when it wasn't comfortable having employees fly internationally; then two weeks ago the company cancelled the New York trip, too.

Yet despite some companies' initial worried reaction to the war, others are working on events here for later dates. “People are still planning [events in New York],” Bernstein says, “but they're saying, 'This could go at any minute.'”

The break in business travel may have more to do with people wanting to stay close to home than specific concerns about New York. “I don't think people feel unsafe about coming to New York. I think they feel more uncomfortable about leaving their own region,” says Rachel Dworsky, owner of Connections Unlimited, which has had four cancellations in reaction to the war, with reasons ranging from worries about international travel to financial concerns.

Some of the cancelled trips may still go on. Two of PRA Destination Management New York's foreign clients have cancelled New York events since the beginning of the year due to “the current political conflict,” says PRA president Patrick Sullivan, and both are looking to reschedule.

But other local destination management companies have had no cancellations. “We're doing okay. No one has cancelled,” says Anthony Napoli, president of Briggs Red Carpet Associates, which is working on two events this month with international travelers, including a manufacturing company's 150th anniversary event that Napoli expects to draw 180 of 200 invited international attendees.

A major hurdle for DMCs is getting out-of-town planners the right information about the status of the city. “I just wish they would stop watching CNN,“ Napoli says, “They see the protests and wonder if the city is closed down, and it's silly because we deal with that everyday. But seeing it on the media they get this warped view and think that the whole city is closed.”

To counteract the popular media message, Napoli is sending clients emergency manuals, with important phone numbers and transportation plans. He's also sending a feel-good letter from Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Company, which highlights the city's security. “New York City is completely open for business,” the letter says. “No other city in the world is doing more to promote the safety and security of its visitors and residents than New York.”

Most are still acting cautiously. “We're sending out invitations this week for a financial company's rewards program at the end of the month that's going to bring in people from all over the country, and if the response is soft, we might postpone the event,” says Karlitz & Company's vice president Carole Coleman. She is also making the most out of New York's light traffic, and negotiating better prices for clients, especially with hotels in the city.

And no one's forgetting about cancellation fees. Empire Force's Bernstein is explaining to her clients how the cancellation
fees work, and telling them that whether or not they go ahead with their events, they need to pay her for the time her firm spends to coordinate—and sometimes un-coordinate—their events.

Reported by Suzanne Ito, Chad Kaydo, Mark Mavrigian
and Jill Musguire