didn’t have time to say hello to anybody. My CEO said we’re going
to meet at 1 p.m., so I set up a ‘war room’ with tables, beverages
and snacks. We had wired Internet in there and we made sure the
outlets worked, because people needed to charge their phones
and plug in laptops to get the Internet to receive information.”
Next, the association set up a meeting with representatives of
the hotel in the war room, who were reluctant to agree that there
were sufficient reasons to cancel the meeting.
“I’m pulling up my laptop to get any info I can, and CNN had a
story that said it was the biggest storm ever tracked, with a cone of
400 square miles, and they had no idea of where it was going to hit
and what was going to happen,” Ramos said. “I motioned for one
of my executives to see, and took screen shots to show what I was
finding at that very moment.
“The hotel said they could hold the meeting,” Ramos continued.
“Members were canceling, speakers were canceling. We said we
cannot have this meeting, and at that point the general council was
talking to the person with the hotel, and said that in the contract
this is inadvisable according to force majeure. The hotel person
said there is no hurricane [yet], so there is not force majeure. We
Ramos said that she was fairly confident that the hotel would
at least be made whole because of the rooms it would be able to
fill with area residents and emergency responders, so her general
council wrote a letter stating that they were formally canceling the
meeting, and her vice president of
communications began working on a
message to alert members and other
attendees, along with preparing an
FAQ section on their website notify-
ing attendees about when their reg-
istration fees would be reimbursed
along with other critical information.
“At that point we knew we weren’t
as welcome there [in the hotel] as we
were a couple of hours ago, and that
they could cut off the Internet at any
time, and if we call for more soda and
cookies, we knew they were not going
to be jumping,” Ramos joked, adding
that the property never did cut off
their service, and very soon became
aware of the immediacy of the situation when their switchboard
started lighting up with people canceling their rooms.
“We had a deposit, and they were not going to waive the deposit
for the attendees, so then we had a lot of people that were very
mad because they were not getting back their deposit,” Ramos
said. “So it was a long afternoon.”
In the end, though, the hotel turned out to be very reasonable,
and it was all a matter of when the mitigating factors could be
claimed to necessitate the cancellation of the meeting in both the
eyes of the client and the facility.
“We had a dinner planned with the hotel Tuesday night, and we
said ‘Do you still want to talk to us,’ and the hotel salesperson said,
‘ Yes, it’s all about relationships.’ By Friday the hotel had sent us an
email by 5 o’clock that said they would accept our force majeure
cancellation, as at that time there was a hurricane advisory and the
airport was closing at 5 o’clock on Saturday.”
According to Ramos, if everything works out to her association’s
satisfaction in regard to the cancellation of the 2017 event, it will
begin the process of booking a future meeting at the property.
Q&A With Bjorn Hanson, Ph.D.
Clinical Professor, NYU School
of Professional Studies //
Jonathan M. Tisch Center
for Hospitality and Tourism
The end of summer portion of the 2017 hurricane season was a devastating one, with Hurricane Harvey greatly impacting Houston, southeastern Texas and Louisiana, followed by Hurricane Irma, which hit the Caribbean and
Florida, two of the more popular tourism spots for U.S. travelers, especially hard.
What is the greater impact of these hurricanes on the hospitality industry?
If there has to be a hurricane—unfortunately there were two big ones—September
is actually a good time [for this to occur], because we have passed the summer
peak holiday travel period. And the convention and meetings [rush] has not really
started yet. So there’s no good time, but right after Labor Day is not the worst time.
As far as the real damage to hotels ... it’s often related to the roof leaking
because the rainwater removal system’s [capacity] was exceeded or another very
significant cause of damage involves PTAC units, the air conditioning/heating units
that [run] through the wall. So there are probably more rooms removed from service because of those two issues than what we picture as hurricane damage.
There will also be lower occupancy because of hurricane damage in affected areas; the rooms that have been removed from service will be out of service for some
period of time. But, [in] many markets, the RevPAR will be affected much less
because the [room] rates charged to insurance claim adjustors to contractors to
architects and engineers typically are higher than the rates that would have been
charged to guests who would have been occupying the rooms at the same time.
What are you hearing from planners in regard to their meetings and events?
My [conversations] with meeting professionals have been heartening. Those I
spoke with have said, “If our colleagues we work with, whether it’s the hotels
or convention centers, say they’re ready for us, we want to go there, we want to
support those markets” ... and to the extent that there may be some amenities or
facilities that are not restored, planners said they would likely either use substitute
facilities or get a price break. ... [Suppliers] understand there are expectations.
So everyone I’ve heard from so far ... it wasn’t like, “Oh, do you have any suggestions on how we can get out of our [meeting].” ... It has all been supportive on
both sides. And to the extent that there are hotels that are not able to accommodate groups ... the brands are saying, “If we can’t accommodate you at our hotel in
[blank], let’s put you in [blank] other city this year and we’ll take you back to Miami
or Houston next year,” and those are the kinds of things that build relationships.
The [larger] issue for planners is that transportation for their event may have
been contracted. ... I’m hearing airlines are being a little less flexible than hotels.
And that makes sense, because the airlines are back in business in weeks whereas the hotels that were heavily impacted will spend months on repairs.
What do you think is the most important thing the hospitality industry can do in
Houston, Florida and the Caribbean to encourage a return to business?
I think Florida has mastered that “we’re back” kind of message. ... There are such
strong [CVBs] and [DMOs] that deal with local submarkets within Florida that those
that are ready to receive guests can communicate that effectively. ... It sounds
kind of silly when I say they can pull the plan off the shelf, but they either lived this
before or are prepared for it and people understand that Miami is not the same
place as [Tampa], which is not the same as Fort Myers. ... It’s a big state ... and it
was clear in the news that not all of Florida was affected the same way. ... I think
Florida travel professionals are doing the assessments, and they’re ready with the
right kind of message. ... I think other destinations can use Florida as an example.
Read the full Q&A with Bjorn Hanson on Meetings Today.com.