Many hotels in Texas and Florida operated as shelters for their communities during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Here’s how hotel employees worked to keep people safe during the storms.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in late August and early September not only took a physical toll on hotel properties in the region, they taxed the staffs of hotels which served as shelters during the storms. For hotels with success stories, the key was communication and cooperation by the staff.
Concord Hospitality has properties in Texas and Florida that operated as shelters during the hurricanes, according to Debra Punke, SVP of human capital.
One hotel, Concord’s Courtyard by Marriott Houston Intercontinental Airport in Houston, wasn’t officially open yet when Hurricane Harvey hit, Punke said, but the property received permission to open before its grand opening to house first responders, Homeland Security workers and hotel employees who had lost their homes to the storm.
Since the hotel hadn’t officially opened, it had no supplies, Punke said. Two employees at the hotel—who also were staying there during the storm—left the property to gather food, water and other supplies to cook for guests.
“The humanity that happens in these times is what’s great to see,” she said.
Some of Concord’s Houston hotels that were fully booked opened up meeting rooms to set up cots for people who needed a place to stay, Punke said.
Because of lessons learned from Harvey, Concord hotels in Florida were a little more prepared for Hurricane Irma, Punke said. The Hyatt Centric Miami South Beach was given permission to house FEMA and emergency responders, she said, and Concord’s Courtyard Orlando South property waived pet policies to house evacuees from Tampa and Miami during Irma.
At Wyndham Hotel Group properties in areas affected by the hurricanes, owners and staffs went above and beyond the call of duty to house those in need, said Mark Kukulski, president of Wyndham’s managed hotels and brand leader of upscale and lifestyle brands.
“For example, our extended-stay Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Naples, one of the hardest hit areas on the Gulf Coast, put up its entire staff and their extended families at the hotel so they could be together and safe as Irma passed through the city,” he said.
Kukulski added that hotels in other states helped families evacuating their homes in Texas and Florida.
“The Ramada Plaza Cincinnati Sharonville in Sharonville, Ohio, offered 30 rooms for free 10-day stays to families from Texas and Florida who left their homes to escape the hurricanes,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges that employees had to overcome was remaining hospitable and helpful to guests while at the same time looking out for their own safety, Kukulski said.
“Our customer care team supports hotels in canceling or changing guest reservations and answering questions from future guests so that hotel staff can focus on the comfort and safety of those on-property,” he said. “At this time, power outages and cell service remain a significant challenge following Hurricane Maria.”
He added that most hotels in areas affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey are open and operating, and the company only knows of a few hotel closures in areas hit by Hurricane Maria.
According to a statement from AccorHotels Group, the company’s Pullman Miami Airport property remained open during Hurricane Irma, and the hotel “safely evacuated all guests and colleagues from late Sunday, 10 September, through Monday, 11 September, due to a total loss of power.”
The hotel reopened on 14 September with limited service, and “is running with full inventory and all service wholly restored as of Friday, 15 September.”
“As always, the safety of our employees, customers and partners is our No. 1 priority,” according to the statement. “The Group is keen to highlight the spirit of mutual help and solidarity of all the teams mobilized and their kindness with respect to customers and people in serious difficulties, whether in Saint-Martin, Cuba or Miami.”
As recovery continues in areas hit by Hurricane Harvey, Punke said the Concord team will go to Houston in mid-October to distribute items to those in need.
The company has also established a microsite through the American Red Cross for associates to make donations, without fear of being scammed, she added.
AccorHotels has set up an Irma Humanitarian and Reconstruction fund through Solidarity AccorHotels.
“The funds collected will make it possible to support the devastated communities near our hotels through reconstruction programs carried out with local authorities and nonprofits, after the phase of immediate emergency assistance,” according to the company’s statement.
Wyndham Rewards members can help out by donating points to Save the Children, Kukulski said.
“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.