Gusty winds and rain are blowing through parts of Texas as Hurricane Harvey prepares to make landfall. Whenever inclement weather poses a threat, meeting professionals have to act fast. Here are some helpful hints to handle the unpredictability of Mother Nature to minimize impacts on the event you worked so hard to plan.
Guests who were supposed to check out may be forced to extend their stay because it might not be possible to leave due to road closures, flight cancellations, etc. This complicates room availability for guests with reservations looking to check in. Is there enough room for everyone? Hotels want all guests to be safe and happy and don’t want anyone to be left out in the middle of a life-threatening storm.
“We would try our hardest not to push anybody out. Usually when a storm like this hits, you have cancellations too,” Steve Cunningham, complex general manager of Wyndham’s Hotel Galvez & Spa, The Tremont House and Harbor House in Galveston, Texas explains. “You can prevent that by managing your inventory or not overselling.”
Hotels with power generators can continue to use their computer system to keep track of inventory and room assignments. However, some places may be doing things manually. Encourage meeting-goers to be compassionate and patient with the front desk. Accidents, such as mistakenly distributing a room key to an already-occupied room, may occur unintentionally. Be patient and flexible as hotel staff rectifies issues as quickly as possible.
During a storm, hotels may be operating on a short staff because employees might have difficulty getting to work safely. Some amenities such as room service and daily linen changes could be suspended. For instance, guests may need to request to pick up fresh towels at the front desk and be a bit more independent than normal.
“Because we know we’re going to have a limited amount of people in the hotel, we do offer some of our staff rooms to stay,” Christine Hopkins, director of communications for the trio of Wyndham properties in Galveston says. “That way we’ll have some housekeepers [on-site].”
Power of Generators
Along with a hurricane can come blackouts. The benefit of being in a hotel versus at home is they are likely equipped with generators to restore power quickly. At the Wyndham properties in Galveston, the generators fully operate the elevators, lights and most electrical outlets, so the inconvenience is minimal. Cunningham warns, however, that air conditioning eats up too much power for most generators, so it can get hot.
Meeting professionals should keep in mind that not every property is necessarily quite as sophisticated. A power outage could mean that elevators are inoperable. This would make it difficult to transport items between floors for a conference. You also need to be concerned about guests with special needs who cannot use stairs. Not all hotels have guestrooms on the ground floor. Check in advance.
Cancelling & Rescheduling
First and foremost, hotels are concerned about the safety of guests and employees. When weather becomes a cause for concern, they often lift their typical cancellation policies and penalties. The hospitality industry seeks to satisfy customers and encourages guests to rebook.
“We had a couple [of groups] that were in-house when the news of the storm broke and they ended their meetings early,” Cunningham says. “We had had a couple of smaller groups that were scheduled to be here tonight and tomorrow and they rescheduled for another date.”
Four hours southwest of Galveston in Corpus Christi, Texas, the town is facing even heavier winds and rains. In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas Trophy Hunters Association (TTHA) proactively postponed the 2017 Hunters Extravaganza Hunting and Fishing Show that was set to take place at the American Bank Center this weekend.
“We love our Extravaganzas where we see our family of exhibitors and attendees, and we hate to postpone, but your safety is our greatest concern,” trade show director Christina Pittman says in a press release.
Food & Beverage
Grocery store shelves quickly become barren as cities prepare for major storms and residents fill their pantries with water and non-perishable food. Meeting professionals can breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t need to buy cases of water at the last minute. The hotel likely planned ahead to make sure guests stay hydrated and well-fed.
“Part of our plan is when we see a storm coming to stock up and make sure we have plenty of food and plenty of water,” Cunningham assures.
Expect long lines at the gas station if driving. Rental cars typically come with a full tank of gas, so if you are doing very limited driving, you likely won’t have much to worry about. Some cities have been known to run out of gas during a storm or stations could close due to power outages. This potentially impacts other modes of ground transportation meeting professionals rely on such as taxis, Uber, Lyft, limos and shuttles. Luckily, in Galveston specifically, Cunningham has not witnessed a gas drought, just long lines. So, keep in mind even if a hotel or convention center is safe and operational, attendees may experience challenges getting to and from the airport and the venue.
Sometimes the days, weeks and even months following a storm are worse than the event itself. Flood waters could take a while to drain and infrastructure takes time to recover and rebuild.
“What we do at the CVB is we stay in very close contact with the city…and we issue updates and information with all the hotel partners,” Leah Cast, director of communications for Galveston Island CVB, says of communicating the latest to meeting professionals. “They funnel that information to front line employees and [the] sales department.”
Worst case scenario, if you do find yourself stranded in a hotel during a storm, it is a great opportunity for teambuilding and bonding. Try to look at it as one big slumber party where you are tasked with making sure everyone has as pleasant an experience as possible and gets home safe and sound.