- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Choice Hotels International has kicked off an industrywide promotional campaign to thank people for traveling, hoping to revive the struggling hospitality sector.
The hotel industry has taken a devastating hit from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that demolished the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York and destroyed a portion of the Pentagon.
The Silver Spring-based hotel franchiser is spending about $10 million to stimulate travel throughout the industry not just at its 4,000 worldwide hotels with a simple "Thanks for traveling" phrase, accompanied by an American flag.
"The industry needs help," said Charles A. Ledsinger Jr., chief executive of Choice Hotels. "We're all in this together. We can't let terrorists take away our fundamental freedom to choose."
Choice Hotels, like many companies in the hospitality industry, has seen business drop since Sept. 11. Corporate travel is down and fear of flying is higher than ever before.
Revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key measure of profitability in the hotel industry, dropped 37.3 percent the week after the attacks, compared with the same week last year, according to Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee-based research firm. RevPAR was down a mere 7.6 percent the week of Sept. 2 to Sept. 8 compared with the same week in 2000, the research group said.
Hotel occupancy in Washington is down 50 percent.
"If the industry doesn't do well, none of us will do well," said Wayne W. Wielgus, senior vice president of marketing at Choice Hotels.
The "Thanks for traveling" slogan, which Choice is letting anyone in the industry use, will hang from banners on all of its 3,300 U.S. properties, which include the Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Clarion, Sleep Inn, Rodeway Inn and MainStay Suites hotel brands. Extra banners featuring the American flag and the "Thanks for traveling" slogan will be given to Choice franchises to share with the community and towns where their hotels are located.
"When a company puts their ad dollars out there as a reminder that travel is an economic necessity for people we applaud that," said Bill Maloney, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
ASTA plans to incorporate the "Thanks for traveling" slogan onto its Web site and encourage its member agents to use it in their own promotional materials.
Travel agents have been devastated by the effects of Sept. 11, Mr. Maloney said.
"If no one is traveling, we have no income," he said.
Three weeks after the attacks, cancellations are getting "back to normal," while reservations are still down, said Tia Gordon, a spokeswoman for the D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association.
The key to industry recovery is getting business travel moving again and filling up rooms in the middle of the week, Mr. Ledsinger said.
Before the attacks, the softening economy led many businesses to cut their travel budgets.
In fact, many businesses planned to cut their travel and entertainment expenses by 28 percent in 2001, according to a June survey by the Business Travel Coalition.
Choice Hotels is kicking off its fall advertising campaign next week, incorporating the "Thanks for traveling" theme in its television ads. The newly designed slogan and American flag will appear in its print ads and billboards.
The hotel franchiser is not promoting Choice-specific discounts or gimmicks like it has throughout past campaigns.
"We're out there promoting travel," Mr. Wielgus said.

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