Special Report: Hurricane Season Updates

On September 11, Hilton issued the following statement: The safety and security of our guests and team members is always our top priority. We are doing everything we can to prepare for the expected landfall of Hurricane Florence and minimize the related effects. Hilton properties located in mandatory evacuation zones in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia have begun evacuation procedures that meet local requirements. Other properties within the storm’s projected path remain open and operational, and have implemented their emergency preparedness plans. We remain in regular contact with local authorities and our tourism partners as we continue to monitor Hurricane Florence.

For guests whose travel plans may be affected by Hurricane Florence, modification and cancellation penalties may be waived for stays with arrivals Tuesday, September 11, through Monday, September 17, regardless of travel destination. Guests are encouraged to visit Hilton.com or contact 1-800-HILTONS for the latest information on specific properties. 

As it approached the Mid-Atlantic coast this week, Hurricane Florence is a dramatic reminder that hurricane season is upon us once again. We still remember the most destructive names of 2017. Harvey. Irma. Maria. Nate. Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest on record, with a damage total of at least $282 billion. Dozens of hotels and thousands of homes were destroyed or severely damaged. More lives were lost than in any hurricane season in the past decade.

In the rear-view mirror, a few pleasant surprises did emerge. Contrary to what might be expected, hotels in some hard-hit areas actually saw a boost in business in the months following the storm. STR, parent company of Hotel News, reported that hurricane-related demand lifted overall U.S. hotel performance by 1.5 percent in the final quarter of 2017. The Houston market saw double-digit revenue-per-room (RevPAR) growth for five months post-Hurricane Harvey. Much of this is attributed to a flood of FEMA and relief agency personnel, as well as construction crews. On the other hand, the Florida Keys struggled to climb back to pre-Irma occupancy levels.

Another plus for the meetings industry is that as part of the recovery, many properties were upgraded and reopened with more amenities than ever before. While many blue tarps are still in evidence on roofs in parts of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere in the Caribbean, the areas popular with groups have largely been made whole. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, major hotels such as The Westin St. John Resort & Villas, Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort on St. Thomas and The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas have not yet reopened.

Brad Dean, new CEO of Discover Puerto Rico reported that 130 of 148 properties have reopened, with more, including The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort Puerto Rico and Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve slated to open their refreshed spaces by the end of the year.

Hospitality Steps up

Should the worst happen again this year, how will these heavily damaged places cope?

“People are stressed and they’re scared because, yes, we are coming on to the next hurricane season,” Daryl Griffth, who heads the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, told NPR recently. “More than three-quarters of our population received some type of hurricane damage.”

Yet if rays of hope exist for these regions—and others that might be hit in the coming months—it is how the hospitality and meetings industries will unfailingly come to the aid of those caught up in the terrible fury of the storms—and help battered economies recover in their aftermath.

After the storms, convention centers and hotel ballrooms became evacuation shelters. Hotel companies and airlines donated millions to aid victims and restore normalcy. Meeting planners designed countless activities for their groups to provide much-needed goods. CVBs in affected areas rushed to get out the word that their areas were open for business again—planners responded by bringing them business if they could.

This week, Milton Segarra, CEO of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, was among those who weathered the torrent of Tropical Storm Gordon. “As a Gulf Coast destination that welcomes over 13 million visitors a year, the Mississippi Gulf Coast maintains a high level of advance preparedness for storms and a commitment to quickly resume operations as soon as possible. Without the hard work and dedication of our exceptional hospitality employees, our destination would not be able to rebound as fast as it has done in the past, in order to start welcoming visitors back to the region.”

But Segarra was president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico when Hurricane Irma ravaged that island last year, and thus is uniquely positioned to add, “After a hurricane, the hotel and hospitality industry is relied upon to house those who play a vital role in the rapid recovery of a destination, such as first responders, government officials, FEMA agents, insurance companies, and the media, which in turn helps to keep the economy in motion.

“Furthermore, the people who work in the meetings and hospitality industries have a great responsibility to represent the community and destination as a whole, and a fast, efficient and compassionate response to challenges such as hurricane damage perfectly reflects the community’s resilience and capacity to overcome and thrive despite any adversity they may face.”

In short, hurricanes—as destructive as they may be—can make us stronger.