The complete financial impact of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center will never be accurately calculated, but among those most hurt are travel- and tourism-related businesses. Many of San Diego's travel and tourist businesses are still feeling the pain.
Le Travel Store sells luggage, travel equipment, and books from its Gaslamp Quarter store on Fourth Avenue. Owner Joan Keller believes the 9/11 attack nearly destroyed the travel industry. "It was immediately devastating. When you hear that travel has come back, it really hasn't come back in any sort of adequate way. It's still way down. What I read in industry media is that there are 25 percent fewer airline seats sold, and our business is down 25 percent. I was watching the Today Show, and they were discussing the U.S. Airways bankruptcy, and their travel experts said the same thing. He said that the airlines expected business to come back by now, and it hasn't. Right after the attack, our business dropped like a stone. We do Internet business and in our shop here in the Gaslamp Quarter, and it just ground to a halt. Nothing. It already was not a vigorous travel year, and we were already taking some cost-cutting measures, and it was so dramatic that we had to cut staffing, managers — it was a very difficult and painful time. We're still feeling the effects of it.
"The only thing we've been able to make up in income was when we did some significant discounting and we saw a little bit of a bump. The problem is, you can only do that so much and remain in business. We're actually considering some things — concentrating on things that people buy even when they're not traveling, like back-to-school backpacks and the like. Maybe some domestic travel operations aren't as hard hit as we are. We've always focused on independent international travel, and that's been hit hard. Even apart from September 11, we look at a map of the world and...our customers used to travel to places like Nepal. The political situation in Nepal is awful. India and Pakistan, you're not going to go there. Israel. Argentina and Brazil. Chile. The financial situation in South America has made that undesirable. The map is a mess right now when it comes to the view of the traveler. The map has really closed up. There are so many things going against travel right now. There is the fear factor, but I don't think that's the biggest one in not flying. There's the irritation factor of the increased security. The economy -- a lot of travel money was lost in the stock market. Travel — especially the kind we sell — requires overcoming inertia to go out and see the world. People are just sitting back. The joy of travel? We're not feeling joyful right now."
Gayla (who refused to give her last name or allow a photo) has managed the Super 8 Motel on Rosecrans Street in Loma Portal for nearly four years. "People are nesting, staying at home. After the attack, not only did consumer travel slow down, but business stays were knocked off. It just dropped. Sales income is down, but I wouldn't just judge it by 9/11, because the economy was going down anyway. Last summer was a really, really bad summer for everyone, even though they don't admit it; 9/11 was just the straw that broke the camel's back. We've managed to make up lost income by getting more business — contractors and things like that. There's a lot of building going on in San Diego, and construction workers from outside companies stay — that's probably 30 to 40 percent of our business. This summer has also been better. July was a really good month, and August has become a really good month." She would not disclose any figures about the drop in business.
Across Rosecrans Street at the Loma Lodge, manager Brian Johannsen was willing to discuss figures. "We're down $35,000 from a year ago. There's been a total change in business since 9/11. Foreigners are not traveling over here. We used to see a lot of French, a lot of Italians, and we're getting none. Immediately after the attack, we lost substantial occupancy and substantial revenue. That's even after upgrading all the rooms. There's been no way to make up the lost income. I have a coworker next door [at Howard Johnson's Inn] who used to work for me, and she said that during the week, they're running at 50 percent occupancy — in the summer! I hope the economy rebounds and people start traveling! I think it's the economy mixed with the fear. People don't want to get on a plane. In the winter we get a lot of Germans and Italians — everybody. All the foreigners come over here, and last winter, we had nobody. We were less than 80 percent occupied, and normally we're in the high 90s."
Amir Fathie is the assistant manager at West Coast Rent-a-Car, one of the many smaller car-rental shops near the airport. "It affected us greatly last year. I feel like it's starting to pick up for the month of August this year. After 9/11, the airport was closed for a few days and that affected us a lot. People were scared to travel, so there were a lot less tourists in town. People's fear of flying greatly reduced the amount of travel to San Diego. Our sales income is a lot lower than a year ago. I'd say we were down about 30 percent. We're hoping that the economy will pick up and tourism will pick up and people will start traveling. That also affects people traveling from Europe. We normally have a lot of Europeans coming in here during the months of June and July, but there was a great decline in European customers during those months this year. I don't know if their economies are shabby or if people are just afraid to fly with all the terrorist warnings in the U.S. — especially during the Fourth of July. A lot of things have affected it. I think all the businesses -- taxis, hotels, shuttles, restaurants — I think they've all been affected. They all rely on the tourists coming into town, and there's been a decline of tourists."