Hoteliers, Tourism Reeling from Spate of Natural Disasters

SAN JUAN, PR—Reeling from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico is likely facing weeks, if not months, without many essential services as the island nation begins what is expected to be a slow recovery.

The majority of the island remains without electricity, impacting telephone service, water supply, food storage, sewers and other areas. Reports indicate at least 13 people lost their lives due to Hurricane Maria, a number that may climb as the more isolated portions of the island are reached. Damage is estimated in the billions of dollars, skewing an economy that already had been suffering.

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyson M. Hoegg, Hurricane Maria first made landfall on Dominica around 9:15 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 18 with estimated maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. Its second landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, occurred around 6:15 a.m. Sept. 20 with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. She indicated this was the first Category 4 landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years, the last one being the San Ciprian Hurricane in 1932.

Peak wind gusts hitting such areas as San Juan and San Juan International were clocked at 113 mph and 109 mph (before the airport’s automated surface observing system failed), respectively. The highest rainfall total in Puerto Rico—37.74 inches—occurred in La Plaza, Caguas, according to AccuWeather data.

Assessing Impact on Tourism

U.S.-based hotel companies with properties on the island have been assessing impact to their assets and last night the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PTRC) advised it is “working closely with other government agencies and the entire tourism industry to assess the impact and continue to provide updates.”

PTRC indicated the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport expects to resume limited commercial flights today, with most airlines looking to resume operations on Saturday. The agency suggested all travelers should reach out to their airlines and lodging directly for specific information. As of today, all the island’s cruise ports remain closed, according to PRTC.

“The safety and security of everyone on the island, including all of our visitors, is our priority right now in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. We are working closely with other government agencies—local and federal—and collaborating with all our industry partners to assess the state of our infrastructure and services across the island,” said PRTC Executive Director Jose Izquierdo.

“While it is too soon to know the full extent of the impact, we are confident that Puerto Rico will quickly recover and the resiliency and strength of our people will get us through the difficult days ahead. We came together not long ago to help our Caribbean neighbors post-Irma, and it is this generosity, the hospitality of our people, and the beauty of our island that will continue to lure visitors to Puerto Rico,” he said.

Milton Segarra, president/CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, said yesterday his group is working with the PRTC and the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association to assess damages and will “provide an accurate update as soon as possible. Our industry’s hurricane plans are in effect, with damage assessment already underway…Our team is safe and taking care of our families while our hotel partners are keeping our guests safe.”

Hotel Companies Eye Operations

According to Kerstin Sachi, director, public relations/social media-Caribbean & Latin America, Marriott International, “We’re still gathering info on the impact of Maria on our hotels in the Caribbean, but so far we’ve heard that all our guests and employees are safe.

“Our hotel management teams are working closely with local authorities as needed,” she continued. “We express our appreciation for the efforts of local police, emergency responders and other officials in supporting the affected communities.” Sachi said all guests and associates have been accounted for and Marriott had no report of injuries at this time.

“While most of our hotels are open, some hotels in the affected areas have sustained damage. Efforts are underway to fully restore operations but some hotels may have temporary interruption or limited availability of guest services,” she said, confirming properties not operating until further notice are The Ritz-Carlton, St Thomas; Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort; Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, Autograph Collection; The Westin St. John Resort Villas; The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa, St. Maarten; and W Retreat & Spa-Vieques Island.

Earthquake Rocks Mexico, Again

As with the double-shot of hurricanes in the Caribbean, hotel companies also found themselves coping with the devastation caused by earthquakes that rocked Mexico 11 days apart; the first, an 8.1 magnitude quake occurred Sept. 8, followed by a 7.1 magnitude quake on Sept. 19, both affecting the capital of Mexico City.

Marriott’s Sachi said the company is working closely with local authorities to monitor the situation and that all guests and associates are accounted for, with no reports of injuries as of today. She noted Le Méridien Mexico City has sustained elevator damage and remains closed but all other Marriott International properties are open.

“While many of the hotels affected by the storm and earthquake are waiving cancellation fees for confirmed reservations, we ask guests to visit the hotel websites for the most up-to-date information,” said Sachi.

A spokesperson for IHG said, “During the September 19 earthquake in central Mexico, all guests and employees were evacuated from IHG-branded hotels and IHG corporate offices in the affected areas in Estado de México, Mexico City, Puebla and Morelos.”

Approximately 30 IHG hotels are located in Central Mexico, the spokesperson noted. “After the earthquake, local authorities inspected the hotels to ensure they were safe for occupancy. Employees and guests have been permitted to return to the corporate offices and hotels, with the exception of the Holiday Inn Mexico Coyoacan and Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Mexico Medica Sur, which experienced minor cosmetic damages and will be closed temporarily for repairs.

“We are working diligently to safely accommodate guests who have reservations at impacted hotels. IHG has waived hotel room cancellation fees in the affected areas of Estado de México, Mexico City, Puebla and Morelos during the impacted timeframe,” the spokesperson said.

Rob Myers, senior director of global communications for Wyndham Hotel Group, said, “Our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted by Hurricane Maria and the devastating earthquake in Mexico City. While damages are still being assessed, it’s important to note communication remains a challenge in some areas. That said, at this time, we know of only a few closures across our nearly 20 hotels in both regions with no reports of injuries. We continue to monitor the situation closely. In the meantime, cancellation policies have been relaxed and we are encouraging any travelers with questions about existing reservations or in need of additional assistance to contact our customer care team. The safety of guests and staff remains our top priority.”

Myers added the company is encouraging members of Wyndham Rewards to consider assisting in relief efforts by donating points to Save the Children. “Donations can be made with as few as 50 points, and Wyndham will match all donations—up to a total of five million points—through the end of October,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for AccorHotels shared: “Following the earthquake in Mexico on Sept. 19, we are grateful to share that all AccorHotels guests and colleagues are safe. All AccorHotels properties in Mexico City area are open and operating as normal, following comprehensive inspections by third-party authorities determining that each hotel is safe and in good condition.”

Impact Elsewhere

Meanwhile, the French archipelago of Guadeloupe reported minimal damage due to Hurricane Maria. The storm did not directly hit the archipelago, but strong winds and heavy precipitations were experienced across the five islands, especially in the south of Basse Terre, Les Saintes and Marie Galante. Occasional flooding occurred in localized areas of Pointe-à-Pitre, Grande Terre.

“Within two to three days, things will be back to normal in the Islands of Guadeloupe,” said Annick Girardin, French minister for the overseas department of France.

The Guadeloupe Islands suffered no infrastructural damage, though two lives were lost.

“Guadeloupe Pole Caraibe Airport suffered only minor damage,” said Jerome Siobud, operations director for Guadeloupe Pole Caraïbe Airport. It is now 100% operational.

As for hotels, Daniel Arnoux, CEO of the Des Hotels et Des Iles Group, said, “Hotels are up and running and suffered only minor damage.”

—CJ Arlotta, Nicole Carlino and Corris Little contributed to this article.

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