HURRICANE CHARLEY hit Southwest Florida resorts and hotels hard on August 13, particularly around Fort Myers and Sanibel and Captiva islands. While some resorts reopened quickly, others were closed as of this writing, and hoteliers and meeting planners are scrambling to make alternative arrangements for groups suddenly left without venues.
The Sanibel Harbor Resort in Fort Myers avoided major damage, but was still forced to shut down into October. Barry Brown, the resort's director of marketing, said the resort has been working with booked groups to postpone or relocate meetings to other hotels.
“We really strategize with the meeting planner about facilities that meet their needs,” Brown says. “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.”
The Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa on Marco Island, Fla., has been the recipient of at least one group that had to move off Captiva Island. Mark Vaughan, director of marketing, says cooperation between hotels is the rule during a time like this. The ability to accommodate these emergency changes “makes them [the hotel that originally booked the group] look good, and makes us look good.”
One of the hardest hit facilities was the South Seas Resort on Captiva Island. Paul Whetsell, CEO of MeriStar Hospitality Corp., which owns the resort, says the objective is to get the whole facility operating by the beginning of the tourism high season in December. The challenge, he says, is the heavy demand on labor for cleanup and repairs that could delay the recovery process.
Other parts of Florida were hit as well. Even Walt Disney World felt the impact as groups on Disney premises hunkered down inside ballrooms and guest rooms as the storm passed by.
Dale Bohrer, who runs Dream Events, a Sharpsburg, Md. — based event management company, was scheduled to bring a scrapbook convention to the Contemporary Resort that Friday, and he said he considered canceling. But with assurances from the Disney people that “we wouldn't get hit over the head” as far aswas concerned, Bohrer decided to go ahead with the event.
Another 800-member group from a well-known professional services company was scheduled to leave Disney's Grand Floridian Resort the day the hurricane struck. Some tried to make it to the airport, but others were unable to make flights and were retrieved by Disney-supplied transportation. All told, 750 attendees stayed at the Grand Floridian at least one more night.