Companies reducing business travel for now, mulling long-term options

Monday, September 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ There were heavily armed police and extra attendants to answer questions, but one thing was clearly in short supply at airports Monday: passengers, especially business travelers.

The terror attacks have brought business travel virtually to a halt, at the worst possible time for the airline industry.

The question now is whether this will translate into a permanently changed attitude toward corporate air travel.

For now, many companies are keeping their employees home and doing business via telephone, video and Web conferences.

Genesys Inc., which claims to be the largest teleconferencing and videoconferencing 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.

Companies around the country have imposed at least short-term restrictions on traveling, and many are thinking hard about the long term.

``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.''

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

QWest Communications of Denver put a one-week moratorium on travel and is evaluating its overall travel policy. Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent Technologies has recommended its 87,000 employees suspend travel for the next two weeks but is 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 claims to have lost $1 billion in revenue from the attacks. Its stocks were hardest hit in the sharp sell-off on Wall Street on Monday, with several airlines down around 40 percent in afternoon trading.

Thomas Nulty, president of Navigant, 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 said 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.