WHEN A GROUP of about 20 planners plus their guests from all over the country boarded planes for a flight to St. Thomas, USVI, in September for Ritz-Carlton's annual Educational Insurance Planner Weekend, they didn't know that Tropical Storm Jeanne was about to wreak havoc with their plans.
Ritz-Carlton, anxious to introduce these high-profile planners to its St. Thomas property, had planned four days of familiarization, education, and activities. But only a handful of planners made it to the island. Most, like myself (there to cover the proceedings for ICP), were stopped by American Airlines staff in Miami as we were about to board connecting flights to St. Thomas. Jeanne, which has been forecast to have made her way past the Virgin Islands by the time the group was to land, had split into two storm systems. One was stalled over St. Thomas, dumping tons of rain, filling an environmentally protected mangrove swamp on property, and disabling a transformer and a pumping station that provided half of the hotel with water and electricity.
Miraculously, with only minutes to spare, our bags that had been tagged for St. Thomas were pulled off in Miami. Attendees whose flights connected through San Juan, however, reached St. Thomas and spent the night. There, according to Jennifer Squeglia, senior conference coordinator for John Hancock Financial Services in Boston, they were given the choice of staying in St. Thomas, or flying to Miami the next day to join the rest of the group. Two planners chose to fly to Miami, but three planners and guests remained. Squeglia says, “It was a trip that all of us will remember for a long time. Ritz-Carlton handled it so beautifully. You never felt for one second that you weren't safe, or you weren't welcome.”
As it turns out, Jeanne had moved on by the second day of the program, so participants got an all-clear for planned outdoor activities. Meanwhile, the larger group in Miami had the opportunity not only to experience the new Ritz-Carlton, South Beach — a spectacular property in its own right — but Ritz-Carlton was happy to show off its Ritz-Carlton, Coconut Grove and Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne properties to the group.
And the program, in both locations, went off without a hitch.