Hope For Humanity, Hope For Hospitality
By Bashar Wali
I suppose like most, it was a normal Tuesday. Rain the night before—sunshine the morning of. Everything happened before most of us were starting our second cup of coffee. Before Twitter, before Instagram. I had a landline, a flip phone that was pay per text message, and a television. Not to date myself, but well, it’s been twenty years after all.
I did the commute often, flew Boston to California and back again. More times than I can count. United Flight 175. On that Tuesday, I didn’t. Choices, the ones we make every day. Funny the way they shape you.
Tower One collapsed. My lifelong rose colored glasses along with it. Then Tower Two. I don’t quite remember the rest of that day. A lot of news. Two planes took down two towers. Another at the Pentagon. A forth, crash landing somewhere in Pennsylvania. Phone lines were jammed. I arrived at the front door of work only to b-line to a bar.
Thankfully, some phone calls made it through,”Oh, thank God, it’s you.” Then, a hang up. Everyone had so many calls to make. So much uncertainty checking on everyone we knew.
Things would be forever changed.
The way we’d fly, our thoughts walking through airport security. The scrutiny that came with looking like a Middle Easterner in an airport line. I felt it all. I watched the ease of travel crash down along with the safety we had somehow felt flying at 30,000 feet. The view from the top was different now.
As a nation, we hugged our families tighter in the weeks that followed. We recognized an uncertain future. While firefighters worked to uncover bodies from the rubble, telephone polls were covered in flyers, shreds of hope to be reunited with the Missing. Those of us sitting at home—those of us who didn’t take the flight—questioned everything. Our purpose. Our livelihood. How we could make things better in this world.
As a hotelier, I needed to take care of my family, which grew amid the crisis: family at home, our hotel teams and their families, the hotel guests, and business travelers who’d been deeply shook—they were all family now.
We needed to come together.
We needed to keep doing hospitality. We needed to hear our employees concerns. We needed to help them feel safe. This time was unprecedented and still: we needed to welcome people in, not shut people out.
It’s been twenty years since 9/11. There have been more times than I can count that I’m faced with a crisis that transports me back to that feeling, that hospitality gumption. It’s inherent in those of us who are lifers.
After all, we’ve been through it: wildfires, economic crashes, chef suicides, climate change putting some of our restaurants under water. 9/11—the biggest disaster. And then, COVID showed up like that last table who comes in late for their reservation, minutes before closing time. The pandemic has stuck around like that same table who won’t leave even after the lights come up and you’ve paraded passed with the garbage.
Hotels and restaurants closing, reopening, closing again. These days, we measure six feet by just eyeballing. The industry workers, the walking DNA of some cities, scattered. Getting out of the industry. Searching for more.
“Another 9/11” I’ve heard my colleagues say. I disagree. 9/11 was a decimator, but it wasn’t prolonged like this. It didn’t spark so many us versus them debates. It didn’t cause managers to turn into bouncers and vaccine security guards.
But I do see one similarity: that unshakeable hospitality feeling. That need to care for people. To feed people, in one way or another. That hope for humanity. If we can just make it around the next corner.
In hospitality, we’re facing an uncertain future. We've closed, reimagined, reopened. We've furloughed, we've hired, we've struggled beyond belief to hire back. I have so much respect for my fellow hoteliers and hospitality professionals, defying the odds to adapt and continue to open doors.
I’m an optimist. Armed with air miles and still dreaming up the hotels of tomorrow.
That hospitality feeling still bubbles up whenever a property is in crisis. I hang on for the ride. Through all of this, I’ve learned to take the wheel and find a way forward. Doing hospitality amid the crisis—that’s love, really.
Going back into the city—the eye of the storm—and welcoming people to our hotels, gave me purpose after 9/11. It made me feel like I was taking care of my fellow soldier.
As we navigate today’s choppy waters trying to hire, rebuild, rediscover, I encourage you to keep moving forward. Hang onto that feeling of hope, like it’s the last order of Dover sole.
Take the hotel gig or the restaurant job. Fuel the frontlines in your hometown. Learn from our past so we don't make the same mistakes. Come together. Get vaxxed. Support local business. Take good care of the women in your life. Check on your fellow lifers. A simple “how are you doing” goes far in this business because we so rarely check in when our heads are down. Chin up.
We’ve got this.