Editor’s Note: This story will be updated as the news progresses.
NATIONAL REPORT—Just as the waters are beginning to recede in Texas after Hurricane Harvey touched down and caused catastrophic damage to the area, hoteliers in the path of Hurricane Irma are making preparations as the Category 5 storm threatens to make landfall in the Caribbean and several counties in South Florida.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has signed a declaration of emergency and urged residents to be in the “ready” phase for Hurricane Irma. Mandatory evacuations have already begun in Florida’s Monroe County (Florida Keys) and Broward county (Fort Lauderdale).
Meyer Jabara Hotels Chairman: “Be safe out there. It’s time to prepare and hunker down”
William Meyer, chairman, Meyer Jabara Hotels told Hotel Business that the multi-branded management company has processes and procedures in place based upon the hurricanes the company has had to deal with over the past 40 years.
“There are a number of things we do to address hurricanes and major storms. We make sure that every hotel that can be impacted gets on a conference call to discuss preparation. We have a checklist we use for each department, and it’s important to have restoration companies readily available. Because we have multiple hotels, we expect those hotels that are not impacted to make personnel available for those hotels that may be affected,” said Meyer. “If we are requested to evacuate, we evacuate all staff and guests. Their safety comes first. We have everyone’s cell phone number. Following the storm, we have two different home office contact persons to contact regarding damages.
Meyer Jabara Hotels held a conference call earlier today, reviewing storm preparation with the GMs and engineers for properties in Florida, as well as and North and South Carolina. “We have retained two restoration companies in the event we need services. They have confirmed we are on the preferred list. We are hopeful Irma doesn’t get as far as the Carolinas,” he said.
Meyer also urged caution ahead of what is already becoming a record-breaking storm: “Be safe out there. It’s time to prepare and hunker down.”
Trust Hospitality CEO: “Pray hard and keep your fingers crossed”
Trust Hospitality’s CEO Richard Millard has numerous hotels in Florida as well as hotels in Anguilla, Exuma and Turks and Caicos. During an interview with Hotel Business, Millard let us know there were only two people in the office today—him and his director of human resources. He asked everyone else to stay home and prepare for Hurricane Irma.
“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes, but this is really bad. Pray hard and keep your fingers crossed,” he said. “We go through this on regular basis and we have a detailed plan at every hotel. The hotels that we have in the islands all just shut down. There’s no gas there, but we do have associates there and we have all kinds of communication methods to make sure everyone is OK. In Miami, we normally don’t close down but everything will be evacuated here and we think it will be mandatory tomorrow. Everything on Miami Beach will be closed; we won’t let anybody stay as it’s not safe. It’s not just the hurricane; it’s afterward which means no power and no water. We are equipped to deal with it, but it’s always a new emergency.”
For Millard, his number one priority is the safety of the associates and guests. They have established a line of communication by zone and when the storm is over, there’s a process for that as well.
“We take care of the customer and our people, that’s standard procedure, and then we batten down the hotels. We move anything from the outside to the inside; all of the lower floors have as much removed as possible. We take photos and videos of the property, so we can prove there was damage should we need to file an insurance claim. And then, we ride it out,” he said.
While preparations are in place, Millard is also ready for what will need to be done after the storm has passed. “We work with shelters and the Red Cross a lot. Many of us are volunteers. We also have two cleanup companies on-call when this is over, so we can get up and running as quickly as we can,” he said.
It’s not just about a building and business, it’s about people, Millard stressed. “Life is really short and we have people who work hard for us and clean guests’ bathrooms every day. They’re real people and we need to be concerned for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, lodging REITs are also being impacted by Hurricane Irma. The REITs with the greatest exposure to the Caribbean, Florida Keys and South Florida are Sotherly Hotels, Ashford Hospitality Prime, Hersha Hospitality Trust, DiamondRock Hospitality, and RLJ Lodging Trust, with more than 10% of their rooms in the potentially impacted area, according to Wells Fargo Securities Analysts Jeffrey Donnelly and Dori Kesten. In terms of lodging corporations, Hyatt Hotels Corp. has the largest exposure, with 7% of owned rooms in the potential impact area, they noted.
The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute’s main offices in Orlando, FL are closed ahead of the impending storm. A spokesperson posted a statement on Twitter: “Our contingency plans are in place and, as always, our priorities are the safety and wellbeing of our team members and minimizing the effects of the storm on business operations. We will keep you updated if any services will be interrupted.”
Hotel Brands Release Statements on Irma
IHG’s Jolyon Bulley, COO, The Americas, gave Hotel Business a detailed account of how the brand is preparing for Hurricane Irma, as well as safety measures on the property level. “IHG’s top priority and concern is the safety of its guests and employees, and our team has been in close contact with the hotels in Hurricane Irma’s path to best prepare for potential impacts, through the following immediate actions,” he said:
Hurricane Protocols: “We have activated our hurricane protocols and have a team of people hard at work in the field and various locations who are actively reaching out to hotels across the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S. to assess their needs and provide help. As we become aware of any potential safety issues presented by storm developments, we’re communicating with the hotels appropriately,” Bulley said. “Further, we’re working diligently to safely accommodate guests who have reservations at impacted hotels and are remaining in close contact with individual hotels around the clock to provide assistance and resources.”
Cancellation Policy: “As Hurricane Irma progresses, hotels in impacted areas where a state of emergency has been declared are required to waive hotel room cancellation fees during the impacted timeframe. We are continuing to monitor the path of Hurricane Irma and will adjust IHG’s cancellation fee policy as appropriate,” Bulley said.
Pet Policy: “Many of IHG’s brands, including Hotel Indigo, Even Hotels, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites, and many individual Holiday Inn Express hotels, already are pet-friendly. As IHG hotels continue to shelter individuals seeking relief from Hurricane Irma, IHG has mandated that all its branded hotels in impacted and surrounding areas welcome pets free of charge during disasters,” Bulley said. “We have and continue to communicate this requirement to all hotels.”
Community Relief Efforts: “When disaster strikes, the IHG Foundation works with humanitarian agencies to help people get back on their feet and ensure they are better prepared for future disasters. We stand ready to support communities affected by Hurricane Irma through our existing IHG Foundation grant of $250,000 to the American Red Cross’ Disaster Responder Program,” he continued. “Additionally, if necessary, we will activate the IHG Disaster Relief Colleague Assistance Fund, which helps colleagues with immediate needs such as food and clothing in the wake of disaster. As the storm continues to develop, we are committed to working closely with affected hotels and owners to provide ongoing support to guests, colleagues and communities.”
In addition, Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and others have all released statements echoing plans to watch the progression of Irma and their focus on the safety of hotel associates and guests. The various brands are also communicating with guests whose reservations are being impacted by the weather.
Back to Business in Houston
Following the impact of Hurricane Harvey, the majority of Marriott’s Houston-area hotels are fully operational and welcoming guests, group bookings and events, according to a brand spokesperson. The select few hotels that were closed due to the storm are still accepting future reservations as availability permits.