When a natural disaster hits, the adage “every man for himself” goes out the window. People do have a tendency to work together when things look bleak, and the reaction to Charley, on and after the destructive August 13 hurricane hit Southwest Florida resorts and hotels hard, demonstrates that the hospitality and meetings industries are no exception to this rule.
For example, the Sanibel Harbor Resort in Fort Myers avoided major damage, but was still forced to shut down and likely won't reopen for business until October. Barry Brown, the resort's director of marketing, said the resort has been working with booked groups to either postpone meetings or relocate them to other hotels. “We try to stay local with it and work with the receiving hotel to try to bridge any gaps between the meeting planner and the new hotel,” says Brown.
Laurie Conwell, an account manager for Medical Education Resources, a nonprofit medical education com-pany in Littleton, Colo., had 110 people scheduled to attend her seminar at the Disney Boardwalk in Orlando starting the Friday the hurricane hit.
“On Thursday, the weather didn't seem much of an issue,” she said. “By Friday morning, we knew there would be bad weather. They [Disney staff] set up monitors to help us keep tabs on everything, including park closings.”
The morning session ended at noon, and the parks began closing around 1:30 p.m. The hotel was forced to close its doors and shutter its restaurants, and instead provided Conwell's groups with boxed dinners.
While Conwell did end up losing local attendees from the Orlando area and from Southwest Florida, she did not lose any of her out-of-state attendees.
The impact of Hurricane Frances on meetings in the South was not available at press time.