An electrical fire at the Marco Island Marriott Resort on January 29 caused an evacuation, injury to an outside contractor who had been working on the system, and a power loss, but ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership’s Great Ideas conference went on. “One of our themes is to create unique experiences—we unintentionally did that,” says John Graham, president and CEO of ASAE and The Center.
While the fire danger was low, concerns about toxic smoke caused the hotel to be evacuated just as Great Ideas was getting ready for an afternoon break on the third day of the conference, which ran January 27 to 30. The final breakout sessions for that afternoon had to be canceled, but the beach party reception went on, says Graham. “Marriott was able to do it flawlessly by cooking everything at the golf club, then transporting it back to the reception,” he says. ASAE and The Center was able to put on some of the canceled breakouts during breakfast the next day. Because the power was out in the Great Ideas meeting rooms, the Marriott, and the organization’s meetings and professional development crews found a way to move the meeting to another area of the hotel. The space was smaller than the original space, so the morning breakout sessions had to be condensed from six to three. And, says Graham, the staging for the general session wasn’t quite as nice as it had been in its original home, but for the most part, attendees were understanding. “Everybody there is in the business,” he says. “They were just glad it wasn’t their meeting!”
Sleeping rooms also were a concern. While ASAE and The Center staff knew the electricity would be out from Monday afternoon to Tuesday evening, the fire marshal did give the hotel a certificate of occupancy for Monday night, and guests were allowed back into the property. Attendees were given the option of staying at the Marriott, which still had hot water and plumbing, but not electricity in the guest rooms or main lobby, or being moved to another hotel. Not many took the second option, which was a relief to the meeting organizers “since there’s only one other hotel on the island; and [those who couldn’t be accommodated at the island’s other hotel] would have had to be bused from Naples, which is about a 45-minute ride,” says Graham.
Marriott “made it like a camping experience,” he says. “They gave us multiple glow sticks to use in our rooms. The hotel put candles in the lobby bar, and people had a good time. It will be a well-remembered conference for sure.” ASAE and The Center is negotiating with the Marco Island Marriott Resort for next year’s conference, so there are no hard feelings, he adds. “It’s not their fault. They did everything they could to meet whatever needs people had.
“I want to compliment the Marriott, their staff, and our meeting staff, all of whom did a phenomenal job.”