The U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president of business development and general manager of ipw, Malcolm Smith, was a little more than half way through his presentation on “What’s New for ipw in Orlando” (ipw convenes there later this month) when, at 10:17 a.m., there was a thunderous “Boom!” that caused the windows to rattle in the Crystal Ballroom of the Wyndham New Yorker hotel, where the Inbound Symposium at NAJ’s RTO Summit was taking place. The sound and the vibrations (and, according to some in the room, there was also a bright flash) were enough to stop everyone from taking our notes or checking our smartphones.
Smith paused, looked around and returned to his presentation. Then, about a minute later, there was another “Boom!” with the accompanying rattling and vibration that most of us felt. Smith stopped and waited. Jake Steinman, NAJ’s CEO, went to find anyone at the hotel who could explain what had just happened, and returned to the ballroom to tell delegates that there had apparently been a gas explosion nearby outside. Then, in a succession of announcements over the hotel’s PA system, delegates were told to remain where they were and, finally, to go down one floor to the hotel lobby and wait. Those who wanted could leave the hotel from its 34th Street entrance.
As it turned out, real-time news accounts that many delegates were able to access on their smartphones explained that there had been a subterranean gas line explosion right outside the hotel at the corner of 35th Street and Eighth Avenue that blew a manhole cover into the air and sent it flying. No injuries apparently. But there were numerous fire trucks, police cars and emergency vehicles we could see gathered in front of the hotel on Eighth Avenue.
Left unsaid was what many later on admitted to thinking about: Was this something far worse? No. But it was enough to give all of us pause to reflect upon what it means to gather in a very public place that is so close to so many very crowded venues.
Within 80 minutes it was all over. The Inbound Symposium program was adjusted so that presentation times were shortened, and nothing on the agenda was dropped. But it was no longer business as usual. Nor will it be.