Grounded airlines leave everyone poorer

The tragic accident Monday morning in New York didn’t do anything to help the psyche of a world still reeling from the events of Sept. 11. Coming on the heels of the weekend’s news that Canada 3000 no longer existed, the damage, in less than 48 hours, to the confidence of anyone remotely connected to the airline industry is severe.

Whistler, of course, is connected by the airline industry.

It’s not our only connection to the rest of the world, obviously, and the airline connection certainly hasn’t been severed. But given the trail of airline tragedies this fall – from the near-disaster with Air Transat running out of fuel, the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings, the horrific crash on a runway in Milan, the accidental shooting down of an Israeli charter over the Black Sea, and then Monday’s crash in New York – it’s little wonder people aren’t anxious to fly if they don’t have to.

Most airline travel is done out of some necessity: business, meetings, family matters. If people decide to fly somewhere on a vacation this winter, a sort of discretionary flying, they will have to find a solvent airline willing to take them to where they want to go, at a time that is convenient. Some people are also demanding a return flight be part of the vacation package. In the wake of several airlines’ demise, including Canada 3000, and with cutbacks at most of the remaining airlines around the world, this combination of demands from those people willing to fly is increasingly difficult to meet.

But people don’t have to get on an airplane to go on a vacation. This point has been recognized by every tourism organization across North America. Hawaii is particularly cognizant.

Just about every tourism campaign in Canada and the United States has been revamped since Sept. 11 and aimed at local and regional markets. Some states are even offering financial incentives to residents to vacation at home.

Whistler, too, has refocused on regional markets, after many years of increasing business in the destination, i.e. fly-in, market. There will still be Brits and Australians and New Yorkers vacationing here this winter, but it’s unlikely they will be in the same numbers as recent years.

In absolute numbers, more regional visitors may make up for fewer destination visitors this season, but the regional visitors are unlikely to spend as much money while they are here.

But that’s not the only reason Whistler may be a little poorer this winter. History has shown great cities and civilizations to be outward looking, crossroads for trade of goods and ideas. In some senses, the global village has become more a series of isolated neighbourhoods since Sept. 11. Airline travel was one of the things that brought the global village together.

One tiny example is the Whistler Cup international juvenile ski races Whistler has held each spring for the last seven years. With the help of primary sponsor Air Canada, the event has brought together 11-14 year olds from, among other countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Russia, Korea, Argentina, Israel, Croatia and South Africa.

The event hasn’t changed the world, but the experience has no doubt had an impact on young people’s lives.

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