- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Business travel is slowly showing signs of a comeback, but only to the low level where it hovered before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

For many companies, meeting clients face-to-face is a vital part of the job so they have eased up on travel restrictions put in place immediately after the attacks. And despite some security concerns, employees are getting back on the road again.

"Clearly traveling today is going to be a personal decision," said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Travel Business Roundtable, a CEO-based group representing the travel and tourism industry.

Some companies still have restrictions in place, especially on international travel, for fear their employees may be stranded all over the world like the thousands of people who were caught immediately after the attacks.

Companies, faced with an economic slowdown and higher travel costs began limiting corporate travel as early as the third and fourth quarter of last year. The Sept. 11 attacks just added more doom and gloom to the ailing industry.

"This event took a bad situation and made it in a word horrible," said Mr. Tisch.

Ensuring travelers are safe is key to getting businesses to travel again. But it doesn't help when the FBI says the threat of terrorism is still there and the scare of anthrax continues every day, said Eugene Laney, director of information and legislative services at the National Business Travel Association.

"We're seeing a real challenge with consumer confidence," Mr. Laney said.

As a result, many companies are still keeping their employees grounded indefinitely.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, is not allowing its 93,000 employees to travel internationally for business, according to a company mandate.

Rosenbluth International, one of the largest travel agencies, has had a 40 percent to 50 percent drop in business from its corporate clients compared with a year ago. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hal Rosenbluth doesn't expect traffic to come back until the first quarter or even the second quarter of next year.

The majority of business-travel managers surveyed by the National Business Travel Association in the beginning of October anticipate a recovery in business travel within the next three to six months. About 18 percent of those surveyed expect it to take 10 months or longer to recover.

Business travel is spotty, depending on the market, Mr. Tisch said. For instance, travel is beginning to pick up in big cities while resort destinations are slower to get business moving again.

Mr. Tisch, who is also chief executive of Loews Hotels, estimates corporate travel is picking up about 10 percent each week.

Verizon Communications is allowing all necessary business travel both domestically and internationally. However, the communications company, headquartered in New York, is much more sensitive to employees concerns about safety and security.

"We are continuing our heightened sensitivity to employees who don't want to travel," said Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell.

Texas Instruments had been using video-conferencing and online meetings in place of some travel since the first quarter of 2001.

In the month or so after the attacks, employees who travel within the United States, Canada and Mexico have been advised to get their supervisors' approval. The travel should be "based upon a reasonable need," said Donna Coletti, a spokeswoman for the company. Employees have been asked to postpone all nonessential international travel.

"Employees are looking at travel as something that can be avoided because we have alternatives in place," said Gail Chandler, another company spokeswoman. "What is important is that we keep the work flowing, and in some cases travel is needed."

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