Hoteliers mobilised to help stranded visitors and passengers
Hotels across the Island found themselves dealing with hundreds of displaced air passengers when flights destined for the US were diverted as the 9/11 emergency took hold.
The Island’s airport soon resembled a parking lot of jet airliners as flights from Europe and the Caribbean were instructed to head to Bermuda when the US closed its airspace in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
The airliners had been en route to the US when the 911 attacks occurred. Among the displaced flights were planes from Spain, England, Germany, Italy and Puerto Rico.
Within hours the Bermuda Hotel Association had mobilised, and it identified 600 rooms available across the Island to accommodate the hundreds of people who were stranded.
Mike Winfield, CEO of Cambridge Beaches Hotel, was the director of the BHA at the time. He recalled the moment he heard about the attack on the twin towers.
“I was in a meeting with the executive committee and someone on the conference call told us that the first plane had hit. Very quickly the BHA came together. We first had to respond to the needs of the people on the Island. We had a significant number of people who were stranded who could not get back to the US. Those people were given special rates,” he said.
Bermudian hospitality was extended far and wide as the numbers of people looking for accommodation swelled. “We had to be sympathetic to them,” said Mr Winfield. “The structure worked well. The airport was advising the hotel association of the needs and requirements of the passengers.”
The hardest thing for the hoteliers was providing guests with definitive information on what was happening and when they might be able to reach the US. “Some of the guests had relatives and friends in the twin towers. If it wasn’t for the uncertainty in guests’ heads I think they would all have been fine.”
A number of the diverted planes were able to quickly retrace their routes back to Europe. For the others awaiting entry to the US there was a delay of four or five days before North America’s airspace was reopened to commercial flights.
Ten years later, Mr Winfield believes air travel tourism has not fully recovered from the shock of 9/11. And he said that no one who was an adult at the time of the “ghastly” attack on the twin towers will ever forgot where they were when they heard the news.
“I think any caring human being who witnessed the sight of those planes going into the towers will have been left with an indelible memory of that day,” he said.
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