INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Hurricane Dorian continues its slow march up the East Coast of the U.S., as areas of the Bahamas report devastation, including the death of seven people.
The storm has caused closings or airports and tourist attractions, all along the East Coast as the storm’s strong winds are reaching the area.
Reports of Price Gouging
With reports of some hotels having significantly higher rates than normal, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s (FRLA) CEO/President Carol Dover released the following statement:
“As Floridians were bracing for Hurricane Dorian, Attorney General Ashley Moody received multiple reports of price gouging for lodging establishments throughout the state. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association immediately distributed messaging to our members, reminding them that price gouging is illegal.
It is our understanding that some of these reports may have been the result of software lodging facilities use that automatically controls pricing based on availability of rooms. This software does not discern the difference between high demand as the result of a state of emergency and high demand as the result of a popular event. With this knowledge, we urged our members to begin actively monitoring their room prices via the booking software and to override pricing as needed. Additionally, we suggested members adjust their inventory to show ‘no vacancy’ rather than allowing the booking software to display an exorbitant price to consumers.
Price gouging goes against the very foundation of the hospitality industry, which seeks to make people feel welcome and safe. FRLA fully supports General Moody’s efforts to protect Florida’s consumers, and we thank our partners at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and American Hotel and Lodging Association who have echoed our message on price gouging.”
FRLA also reports that it continues to actively monitor the storm and work with its private sector partners in the State Emergency Operations Center. “If Dorian continues it’s projected path today, we will switch from storm preparation assistance to storm recovery,” according to Dover. “Before and during a storm, FRLA works to secure lodging, food and other items for first responders staging throughout the state, getting ready to respond. Once the storm is clear, we work to provide those things for both the first responders and victims of the storm, and we begin working to connect members who suffered damages with resources to help them reopen and recover as quickly as possible. While FRLA is relieved that Dorian is not a major hurricane with devastating winds, we are still very concerned about storm surge and flash flooding.”
Meyer Jabara Prepares for the Storm
Hotel Business spoke with Terri Stanganelli, hospitality risk manager, Meyer Jabara Hotels (MJH), to find out how its hotels in the potential storm path are preparing.
How are your properties in the potential storm zone preparing?
Residence Inn Amelia Island began evacuation Monday and it is expected to reopen Friday; Fairfield Inn Myrtle Beach and Holiday Inn Express Wilmington are both in evacuations zones, but to date, evac orders have not been given. We assume that may happen later in the week depending on where Hurricane Dorian travels. The Ocala Hilton has a full house and is fully operational. These hotels are fully prepared and have been through previous storms. We are hopeful the West Palm Beach Office will reopen Wednesday, but in the meantime, we assist remotely.
How has the company been preparing for the storm?
Meyer Jabara prepares all year long for natural disasters, and we are consistently talking about storm preparations on monthly safety calls and sharing best practices. We have a Hurricane Preparation policy that is updated as we learn from each storm, whether hurricane or winter weather-related. Our two Florida hotels and six North and South Carolina hotels are in hurricane-prone areas, including the corporate West Palm Beach office. When a hurricane is detected, we look to see which properties are in the path of the storm. We know those assets and their vulnerabilities. Each hotel has a hurricane plan, and we host daily calls with managers at those properties to ensure that the plan is being enforced. Should the hurricane move further up the coast, our properties in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts join in the daily calls and put their plans into effect. For example, we know that our hotels in the Baltimore Inner Harbor tend to flood. Mindful of that, we pull all the toilets on the first floor and sandbag where needed.
One of the most important things that we do is look at our resources—long before the storm reaches our hotels. We have a team of regional engineers and contractors who start to mobilize outside the hurricane area. Depending on how badly the property is impacted, we may send these emergency teams to the hotel to ride out the storm with other team leaders who stayed on property. Their No. 1 priority is to get the asset back up and running.
From an operational standpoint, we look at the strain that will take place on staffing and management. Many of our employees’ homes may be compromised, so we also stage front desk, housekeeping and engineering staff outside the impacted area so once the storm passes, they can be dispatched to the hotel to get the doors open. From a sales standpoint, we are prepared to reach out to the utility companies, contractors and groups like FEMA to let them know we can house their teams. And, we track displaced business to make sure our customers are being taken care of.
The bottom line is, we are in business to support the community. The local fire departments drop off people whose homes were flooded. If we don’t have rooms available, we set up cots if needed. It’s during a time of crisis that our hotels become the biggest community asset. That’s the beauty of the business we are in. We need these plans, resources, talent and equipment to reopen quickly and help as many people as we can.
What are some procedures when you’re expecting a storm?
In addition to the standard checklist, such as securing windows, moving items inside that have the potential to blow around and damage property, lowering water levels in pools, sandbagging entry ways, ensuring generators are ready to go, fueling vehicles and ensuring that batteries and flow sticks are readily available, here are a few additional procedures Meyer Jabara hotels puts into action:
- MJH relocates anything near the floor, such as computer equipment, boxes, etc., to the second floor of the hotel. Our IT company proactively shuts down computers where necessary to avoid surges, and they back up computer files.
- MJH preorders operating and food supplies for delivery later in the week to ensure its hotels are fully operational and can service guests, associates and many times emergency personnel and power crews once the assets reopen. This is sometimes a challenge due to local area flooding and access being cut off.
- MJH staff is fully ready to rally before, during and after the storm. In some locations, staff members and their families voluntarily stay at the hotel to ensure associates can service guests. Associates need to know their families are safe and sound.
- MJH ensures that emergency restoration and repair crews are on standby in case we need them. Typically, authorities require letters from owners to allow access of these crews to the area. This keeps unwelcome visitors out. MJH provides the restoration companies with access letters ahead of the storm so there is no delay in getting them to the hotel site. We learned this from Hurricane Michael last year.
- MJH brings key personnel from other hotels to those that may need additional hands on deck.
- MJH’s reservation department is in constant contact with its Florida and North and South Carolina hotels to stay on top of reservations, help relocate guests and be ready for returning guests when evacuation orders are lifted.
- MJH continually checks and cleans storm drains throughout the approaching storm. This seems like a small thing, but when water is traveling and has nowhere to go, it’s important.