I was happy to see that Singapore Airlines chief executive Chew Choon Seng told goggle-eyed reporters and open-mouthed travel industry boosters that he didn't think last month's higher passenger numbers meant economic recovery. "There is not enough evidence yet to conclude that we are back on a firm trail to recovery," he said at a recent press conference.
His words were a far cry from the recent spate of reports essentially saying that recovery is near -- even when third-quarter earnings didn't seem to justify the optimism. American Express Business Travel released surveys saying 2010 will be a year of recovery, mostly because of anticipated spending from China (yet the survey seemed to ignore that executives said they were cutting business travel by half.) Wyndham Worldwide chief executive Stephen P. Holmes went on record saying the travel industry has stabilized. (This coming from the company whose foray into vacation condos lost them millions because of the housing bust -- and was the cause of a 17 percent drop in revenue for the third quarter.)
I know there's a desire to spin these stories into positives, why else employ a team of public relations experts? But can the travel industry stop and take the temperature of the room? No one is buying that economic recovery is already here (despite federal rumblings that the nation's GDP has risen and the economy has expanded.) Most people know they are being affected by some of the highest unemployment and economic uncertainty in decades, and are paying higher prices for health care, education and gasoline. That doesn't feel much like recovery.
I think Seng's caution and intelligent approach is a welcome change. Maybe others in the industry will also embrace it.
Photo of Seng courtesy of Singapore Airlines