Editor’s Note: This story will be updated as the news progresses.
NATIONAL REPORT—The destruction left by Hurricane Florence, now a tropical depression, is visible as streets were turned into rivers and highways have become impassable. The storm has killed at least 18 people.
However, the worst is not over. “Catastrophic and historic river flooding will continue for days across portions of the Carolinas,” the National Weather Service said.
On Monday morning, Tropical Depression Florence was centered about 125 miles west southwest of Roanoke, VA, the National Weather Service said. It was moving north at 13 mph, whipping 30 mph winds.
A helping hand
Rosen Hotels & Resorts President Harris Rosen offered steep discounts at his nine hotels in the Orlando, FL, area for Hurricane Florence evacuees. The prices ranged from $59 to $79 a night, depending on the hotel, and all pets were welcome, according to a report from News Talk Florida. Rosen has been offering the hurricane discounts for decades, but they typically are used by Floridians escaping the coasts.
Choice Hotels International Inc. will match Choice Privileges member donations to the American Red Cross, encouraging its members to donate loyalty points that convert to cash. Choice Hotels will match up to 20 million points contributed by members in support of disaster relief and recovery efforts through the end of this year. Choice Hotels is a member of the Red Cross Disaster Responder Program, which ensures American Red Cross is prepared to respond to disasters and meet the needs of those affected anytime and anywhere across the United States.
In addition, technology companies are stepping up to help. Apple has donated $1 million to the Red Cross, and all four major carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—are making communication free for customers in the hurricane’s path.
Surveying the impact
Hoteliers from the affected areas are sharing dispatches as they begin to assess storm damage and, if possible, find ways to get back to business
“We have two hotels in Wilmington, NC—a Homewood Suites (at Mayfaire) and a Suburban Extended Stay hotel on Eastwood Rd.—both hotels have survived the storm reasonably well. We had a core group of team members stay at each hotel during the storm. Both hotels were close to fully occupied throughout with a mix of guests who had evacuated coastal areas, first responders and disaster recovery crews,” said Bob Barnett, COO of The Generation Companies.
“Both hotels lost power beginning Thursday night. The power came back on overnight last night. We have had some water damage in a number of rooms, and believe we’ve lost some siding and possibly roof shingles, in addition to an exterior sign. Our teams will be doing a full assessment today in conjunction with our disaster recovery partner ACT. It has been a marathon, but the teams at both hotels and the vast majority of guests are in good spirits. We’re very proud of the work our staff did in taking care of these guests in difficult circumstances.”
Some hotels in the evacuation zone were fortunate not to sustain any damage. Kiawah Island Golf Resort was on the southeast edge of the storm. “As a result, we are very fortunate that we experienced no negative effects from the storm—no infrastructure damage, no power outages, no beach erosion and no flooding,” said Kiawah Island Golf Resort President Roger Warren. “We closed the resort last Wednesday in compliance with the governor of South Carolina’s evacuation order, but we spent yesterday (Sunday) preparing the resort to reopen. We are fully open and operational today, and the resort, including The Sanctuary Hotel, is welcoming guests and taking reservations. Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors just north of us on both sides of the North Carolina-South Carolina border.”
Association supports operators on the ground
The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) is sending daily advisories to all members statewide to provide emergency response resources. The organization’s toolkit provides information and best practices to help restaurant and lodging businesses across North Carolina prepare for the hurricane and its aftermath including food protection, alternative lodging referrals for the traveling public, treatment of room cancellation and pet policies, room pricing during an emergency and transitional shelter assistance.
“Our first priority is making sure that everyone stays safe. This large storm is forecast to have an impact on our entire state, so we strongly encourage folks to heed evacuation orders and stay in touch with their local emergency management sources for the best guidance,” said Lynn Minges, president/CEO of the NC Restaurant & Lodging Association. “In times of emergency, NCRLA stands ready to support the North Carolina hospitality community, the governor’s office, North Carolina Department of Emergency Management, Visit NC, convention and visitors bureaus, and other emergency staff to alert and assist impacted communities.”
Ahead of the hurricane, NCRLA is playing an active role in helping locate temporary accommodations for visitors and displaced residents and their pets.
“We’re working with our counterparts in neighboring states because many will need to travel there to find accommodations. We area also providing restaurants and hotels with information and resources to help them both now in planning for the storm as well as providing resources and information that we hope will be helpful after the storm,” said Minges. “We are partnering with several state and federal agencies who can help businesses now, during the storm, and after the storm. And, finally, restaurants and hotels across the state will stand ready to assist and support first responders as well as those impacted by the storm with food and shelter where possible.”
Hoteliers stay in communication, focus on safety
G6 Hospitality, the parent company of Motel 6 and Studio 6 brands in the U.S. and Canada, shared that the company is holding conference calls on a daily—if not more—basis to bring corporate leadership, regional operations and management in charge of impacted locations.
“This offers real-time updates from people on the ground about the safety and status of our team members and guests,” said Maggie Giddens, managing director of external communications and CSR, G6 Hospitality. “We’re able to find out quickly on an ongoing basis if there are people in need of food, shelter, water or other urgent support. Several locations on the coast in high-risk areas have already evacuated, and by staying closely connected we have been able to make the process as smooth as possible and ensure the safety of everybody involved.”
G6 is also working closely with its regional operations and local property teams at corporate and franchise locations to ensure they’re supporting their needs.
“Our corporate headquarters and call centers are proactively preparing to support impacted locations, as well,” said Giddens. “Even in areas that we don’t expect major damage, there is still a high likelihood of rapidly changing capacity for guests and disruptions to day-to-day systems during and after the storm. We’ve added capacity to manage the added influx for functions like booking, reservations, payment and transaction services, etc.”
In terms of safety, Giddens explained there are extensive procedures in place to deal with significant weather events, which addresses risks at their hotel locations.
“For locations that are not evacuating, we instruct our property teams on handling concerns such as extended power failures, water service outages, etc.—and how to contact the appropriate internal functions for assistance,” said Giddens. “In cases where there are necessary evacuations, we provide guidance on a range of needs and safety preparation, including facilities-related steps like securing documents in places that are above expected water levels, shutting down gas lines, and turning off electricity.”
Greenville, SC-based Auro Hotels, a successor company to JHM Hotels, is also tapping into its emergency preparedness plans.
“Please know that our number-one goal is the safety and security of our guests and associates during times like these. Auro Hotels has an extensive emergency preparedness program, which is in full effect for all of our South and North Carolina hotels,” said Jane Brophy, VP of full-service operations and shared services, Auro Hotels. “In addition, we partner with the hotel brands, insurance companies, and vendors to insure a full scope plan to address the needs prior to the weather event, during and addressing the aftermath.”
The team from Strand Hospitality reported their experiences: “We have complied with the brand and local and state requests to close our Hampton Inn & Suites at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, SC, due to the current evacuation order,” said Jay Keller, COO of Strand Hospitality, a Myrtle Beach, SC/Charlotte, NC-based management company. “All of our hotels in the Southeast U.S. have been and will be impacted by this storm.”
Brands release statements on Florence
Global hotel brands such as Hyatt, IHG, Wyndham, Hilton and Marriott released statements detailing plans as they monitor the progression of Florence and focus on the safety of hotel associates and guests.
“The safety and security of our guests and colleagues is a top priority. Hyatt hotels in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia continue to closely monitor the path of Hurricane Florence and are taking precautions in an effort to prepare guests, colleagues and hotel property for impending effects of the storm,” said a Hyatt spokesperson. “These preparations include securing the properties’ exteriors (i.e., furniture, landscaping), waiving cancellation fees, and assisting guests in mandatory evacuation areas, including Charleston, SC, where our hotels will cease normal operations until evacuation orders have been lifted. We are also in touch with future guests to inform them of the situation and potential closures due to mandatory evacuations.”
Aligned with Hyatt’s commitment to care, hotels in the affected areas are working to assist and accommodate displaced guests, colleagues and members of the community. This may include flexible pet policies, waived or reduced pet fees, parking fees and more. The brand encourages travelers to contact them directly at 800-323-7249 with any questions regarding their future stays in these destinations. Travelers may also visit hyatt.com to check availability of hotels in these destinations and surrounding areas.
“To ensure that we’re providing the highest level of hospitality for those seeking relief and comfort from Hurricane Florence, all IHG hotels in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC are waiving cancellation fees and welcoming pets free of charge during the impacted timeframe,” said an IHG spokesperson. “We have also activated the IHG Disaster Relief Colleague Assistance Fund to help employees in need. As the storm progresses, IHG hotels along the projected storm path may close or may reach capacity. Guests can call 1-877-424-2449 to discuss an upcoming reservation, or visit www.ihg.com or the IHG App to make a new reservation.”
Wyndham is waiving cancellation fees in zip codes that are under evacuation and/or hurricane warning. Travelers with existing reservations for this week are strongly encouraged to work with the brand to reschedule. For any questions pertaining to an existing or upcoming reservation, contact 1-855-999-0847.
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 hurricane’s projected path remain open and operational and have implemented their emergency preparedness plans. For guests whose travel plans may be affected by Hurricane Florence, modification and cancellation penalties may be waived for stays with arrivals Tuesday, Sept. 11, through Monday, Sept. 17, regardless of travel destination. Guests are encouraged to visit Hilton.com or contact 1-800-HILTONS for the latest information on specific properties.
At Marriott International, plans are in place to evacuate and close hotels as local authorities or conditions require such action. Hotels in the impacted area are waiving cancellation and change fees but details will vary depending on the hotel, so the company suggests customers call 800-228-9290 for more information about their reservations. Travelers in countries outside of the United States seeking information about their reservations should call the Marriott International toll-free number in their country.
Room at the inn and elsewhere
Both The Mayton Inn in Cary, NC, and King’s Daughters Inn in Durham, NC, have availability and are taking in evacuees, according to USA Today. Both properties are waiving cancellation policies and fees for pets. The hotels are getting more bookings than usual and are stocking up on food and alcohol. The hotels have also made housing arrangements for their employees who can’t make it home during the storm.
Elsewhere, the Greenville-Pitt County Convention & Visitors Bureau is updating a list of places to seek shelter for Greenville-Pitt County. It is urging travelers to check with hotels to confirm room availability and pet policies.
In Atlantic City, NJ, the Ocean Resort Casino is offering free lodging for people displaced by Hurricane Florence.
“We completely understand the concern for families and the community during times like this, so we want to do our part by providing somewhere safe, warm and dry to those impacted by Hurricane Florence,” owner Bruce Deifik, chairman of Ocean Walk LLC, said in a statement.
Guests must provide a valid driver’s license showing “residence in the areas adversely affected and directly impacted by Hurricane Florence” to use the offer, according to the statement.
“All efforts will be made to accommodate based on availability of space and rooms,” said Deifik.
Where to flee with pets
Dr. Jared Conley, a veterinarian with Complete Pet Care in Raleigh urges pet owners, “Make sure your pet has been microchipped and has identification, a collar and a leash. The microchip is really important to help get them reunited,” according to a CBS17 report in Raleigh, NC.
The American Kennel Club and AKC Reunite have compiled a list of pet-friendly shelters to help evacuees and their pets in the hurricane.
Hurricane preparation: plan, practice and improve
For hoteliers looking at recent weather patterns and wondering if a natural disaster may happen, it’s wise to have everything in order ahead of time including insurance as it’s the only way to effectively protect a property.
“From an insurance perspective, hotels should ensure that their commercial property, windstorm, flood and business interruption coverages are in force,” said Jason Mazer, partner at Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A., an insurance coverage and bad-faith law firm based out of Miami. “They should also be prepared to document all physical damage to property and income loss in the event of a storm. Before and after photos or videos can be very helpful. Also, contractor, valuation and legal consultants should be at the ready.”