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REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Though Hurricane Sandy has yet to make landfall, hoteliers along the U.S. East Coast already are feeling its impact.
The Category 1 hurricane, which has an impact diameter of nearly 800 miles and maximum sustained winds speeds of 85 mph, is expected to make landfall late Monday somewhere between the Delmarva Peninsula—a region occupied by Delaware, Maryland and Virginia—to southern New Jersey.
Major metropolitans are taking unprecedented precautions, with New York and Washington, D.C., among others, closing public transportation and schools. Other areas in the storm’s projected path are under mandatory evacuations.
Thousands of flights were grounded in the northeast as of Monday morning, and hoteliers already are reporting cancellations.
“Always with any kind of storm or inclement weather, hotels end up losing. You never end up gaining. People find a way out of town,” said Kate Martin, GM of the Hotel Chandler in New York. “Most people left early, even as early as Friday. We have a very minimum, handful of check-ins and check-outs today.
“It’s going to be a financial impact for sure.”
All told, the Global Business Travel Association predicted some 514,000 trips and $606 million in spending lost as a result of storm-related cancellations. The 11 East Coast states in the path of the storm could suffer an average business travel spending loss as high as $58 million per day.
Martin is waiving cancellation fees at the Chandler. For non-refundable bookings, she said the hotel issues a future credit.
Several of the major hotel chains are taking similar steps to accommodate guests. Hilton Worldwide, for example, is waiving cancellation fees for advance-purchase reservations for hotels located in evacuation zones and affected areas. “If guests check-out before their scheduled departure date or time because their stay is negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy, early departure charges will be waived at all applicable hotels. We continue to monitor and evaluate Hurricane Sandy's path and will update our policies accordingly,” the company said in a statement.
And Hyatt Hotels Corporation posted the following to their blog:
"We are aware that Hurricane Sandy is impacting travel plans for many of our guests, and want to give you the latest information. Many of our hotels along the East Coast are waiving cancellation fees and encourage you to speak with us directly about your reservation or any questions you might have."
Anticipating a surge in stranded travelers, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is offering a 20% discount at all available properties in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., from Monday through Wednesday.
Cancellations and accommodations aside, hoteliers are focusing the majority of their attention on the safety and security of guests.
“We obviously take precautions from basic stuff like making sure there’s several sump pumps in the basement area, not that I think we’re going to flood where we’re located, but you never know,” Martin said.
Her biggest concern at the property, which does not have a generator, is a loss of power. Hotel staff will be armed with flashlights, lanterns and two-way radios when the storm hits, and elevators will be shut down, she said.
“We don’t take it lightly. You prepare for worst-case scenario. If we don’t lose power, we will be OK, but that’s the big question,” Martin said.
Meanwhile, at the nearby InterContinental New York Barclay, GM Hervé Houdré is overseeing a comprehensive communications strategy to keep guests informed.
“We are communicating with in-house guests as appropriate. These communications regard in-room precautions such as closing window drapes and blinds and other safety precautions as needed,” he wrote via email.
The property also has stocked up on the necessary supplies and continues to monitor the storm and guest enquiries via social media.
The major chains are monitoring Hurricane Sandy to gauge its impact across their portfolios.
“Hilton Worldwide continues to monitor the path of Hurricane Sandy as the storm moves north and affects the Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States in its path,” the company said in a statement. “Our emergency preparedness procedures are active, and we continue to work closely with local officials and tourism partners to communicate the most updated information to our guests. Our hotels in the affected areas are making the necessary preparations and, as always, the safety of our guests and employees remains our top priority.”
Marriott International is doing the same.
Marriott will “continue to monitor Hurricane Sandy and are taking appropriate precautions along the East Coast of the United States. As always, the safety and security of our guests and employees is a top priority,” the company said in a statement.
Marriott already has closed a number of its properties in some low-lying areas, including the New York Marriott Downtown and The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park. The reopening date of each hotel will be determined once the storm has passed and conditions have been evaluated. Guests of both hotels have been relocated to nearby Marriott hotels and The Ritz-Carlton, Central Park.
Best Western International has approximately 230 hotels in the path of the storm, according to spokesperson Laura Cherry.
“We have a number of properties that are closed because they are going to be housing power workers. At this point we do not have any hotels that have been damaged,” she said, adding the anticipated tide surge could cause some flooding.
Meanwhile, Wyndham Hotel Group provided updates on the following properties:
Wingate by Wyndham in York, Pennsylvania, is open and offering special discounted rates to those in the area in need via its Facebook page
Wingate by Wyndham in Vineland, New Jersey, is sold out for the next three nights with emergency responder agencies and crews, regular guests, local families, etc. They are remaining open as long as they are able to do so with preparedness plans in place should the storm get worse in their area. No guests are being relocated at this time.
Wingate by Wyndham in Midtown Manhattan is open and operating and prepared for the storm. The hotel is not located in an evacuation zone so they will continue to operate as normal as possible. They are sold out but expect some scheduled guests to not check in as it is difficult to get to and around New York.
Wingate by Wyndham in Commack, New York on Long Island is open and operating as usual and is nearly sold out.
The Howard Johnson Hotel – Toms River in Toms River, New Jersey, is experience high occupancies, maintaining standard rates and still has power.
The Ramada Plaza Nags Head Beach in North Carolina is open and operating, with minor leaks and water damage thus far. There is potential for some flooding in a few hours when the wind changes.
The Ramada on the Beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has experienced very little water intrusion and is open and operating as usual.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide hotels in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut along with properties in the mid-Atlantic region including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have made all necessary storm preparations to continue to accommodate guests as Hurricane Sandy impacts those areas, according to an emailed statement. Properties in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Boston; Vermont; New Hampshire; and Providence, Rhode Island also are taking necessary precautions.
The Sheraton Atlantic City evacuated guests as part of the city’s evacuation order but remains as a staging center for emergency services personnel. The W New York Downtown also evacuated guests as part of the city’s mandatory evacuation order of lower Manhattan.
Additional reporting by Jason Q. Freed.