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Companies Reduce Business Travel

Newsday.com, 9/17/01
By JUSTIN POPE, AP Business Writer

BOSTON — Heavily armed police and extra attendants populated the nation's airports Monday but one thing was clearly in short supply: passengers, especially business ones.

Last week's terror attacks have brought business travel virtually to a halt, depriving the airline industry of an important revenue source at the worst possible time.

The question know is whether weeklong travel bans and "evaluation periods" will translate into a permanently changed attitude toward corporate air travel.

"Business trips are a necessity," said engineer Earl Turner, who cut a lonely figure as one of just a handful of business travelers at Logan International Airport on Monday as he waited for a flight home to Lafayette, La. "You might try to reduce the (number of) business trips, but it's inevitable business people are going to travel. They have to."

Companies around the country, however, have imposed at least short-term restrictions on traveling and many are re-evaluating long-term policies. For now, they're making due with telephone, video and Web conferences.

"I'm seeing a lot of caution on the part of our members," said Allison Marble, a spokeswoman for the National Business Travel Association, which represents the in-house travel agents of major companies. "Most of them, I still think, believe travel is going to be an essential part of their business, but even before this a lot of our member companies were cutting back on all but essential travel because of the costs and downturn in the economy."

Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver has a one-week moratorium on travel and is evaluating its overall travel policy. Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent Technologies Inc. has recommended its 87,000 employees suspend travel for the next two weeks but was not discouraging urgent travel, said spokesman John Skalko.

"It is not as much a fear of flying," said Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's International Inc., which has banned all air travel through this week. "Business people are looking at the practicality of flying in today's environment: reduced schedules, significant delays at airports."

Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block has banned international travel and is restricting domestic travel.

"You try to adhere to what the president has asked us to do, which is to go forward with business," said spokeswoman Cyd Slayton. "At the same time, safety is paramount."

The restrictions, even if temporary, have hit the airlines hard. The industry says it has lost $1 billion in revenue from the attacks. Its stocks were hardest hit in the sharp sell-off on Wall Street Monday, with several down around 40 percent in trading

In addition, several airlines including Continental and US Airways, have announced thousands of layoffs.

But some companies said they wouldn't be intimidated, even while conceding they'll be closely examining their policies.

"We will not let these acts of terrorism stop us from running our business the way it needs to be run," said Tom Nutile, a spokesman for Framingham-based office supply chain Staples Inc.

Thomas Nulty, president of Navigant International Inc., which sells about $4 billion worth of mostly corporate airline tickets annually, said his company has spent most of the last week handling cancellations. But he says things will bounce back.

"Once people finally decide we're going to have to move on and we're going to have to do business, and that travel is a critical part of doing that, it's my sense that people will be back out there soon," Nulty said Monday via telephone from a United flight waiting to depart Orange County, Calif.

Genesys Inc., which claims to be the largest teleconferencing and video conferencing company, noticed "sharp spikes in activity" in recent days said the company's vice president for marketing, Richard Turcott.

John J. Foley, founder of New England Satellite Systems in Shrewsbury, said corporate clients who want to broadcast companywide messages and meetings are competing for satellite time with news organizations trying to beam their reports around the world.

So far, there's enough to go around, but it's getting tight.

"There is a finite amount of satellite time available, and it could be a challenge depending on what's going on in the news world," he said. "There is a feeding frenzy for satellite time when there's a big news event. But so far we've met the demand."

(PROFILE (CO:Qwest Communications International Inc; TS:Q; IG:FTS;) (CO:Lucent Technologies Inc; TS:LU; IG:HEQ;) (CO:Block, H&R; TS:HRB; IG:CSV;) (CO:Staples Inc; TS:SPLS; IG:RTS;) (CO:Navigant International Inc; TS:FLYR; IG:SVC;) )

Copyright © 2001, The Associated Press

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