Just months before Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, I had the opportunity to experience a world-class event on Necker Island. While being schooled by none other than the man himself, Richard Branson, we got to experience a host of memorable moments that made me reflect on the events and meetings industry when things go perfectly as to plan (read Getting Schooled by Richard Branson). But what happens after disaster strikes?
Having had a chance to return to the Caribbean this past December, in addition to spending some time on Necker with Branson to view their reconstruction efforts, I also was delighted to have had a week on neighbouring Scrub Island. Scrub is a private resort island that sustained considerable damage as a result of Hurricane Irma. More than a year after the storm and despite the resort having reopened, the storm’s damage was still visible and reconstruction efforts were still underway.
In talking to Scott McArdle, General Manager of Scrub Island, I was able to gain a better understanding of how a natural disaster affects a hotel property, what the recovery process is like and what event planners can do to help.
Natural disasters inflict a double-whammy blow to hotel properties. Not only do they have to repair and rebuild everything that was damaged by the storm, but they also have to do so while taking in little to no revenue until they are ready to reopen – and even then, travellers might be slow to return. Through all of this, they also have to keep paying their employees whose own homes may have been damaged as well. Not surprisingly, any income during this period is extremely helpful.
That is where event planners come in. By holding your event in an area recovering from a natural disaster, you are bringing in much needed business that will help both the hotel and the local people get back on their feet. While there may be some hiccups along the way – they are still recovering after all – you can be assured that the hotel staff and local people will be extremely motivated to return to business as usual and will try extra hard to ensure that guests have a pleasant stay.
Given the 24-hour nature of hotels, it can be hard to find time to carry out renovations or make improvements to the facilities without disrupting guests or foregoing revenue. However, one of the silver linings of a natural disaster is that since the hotel is already closed for repairs, it’s a great opportunity to do some upgrades as well. By booking at a location that has recently reopened after a disaster, you’ll be one of the first to enjoy the new and improved facilities.
In the case of Scrub Island, the hurricane changed the nature of the shoreline on one part of the island allowing for the creation of a new beach while a long-awaited renovation to connect two restaurant buildings together was also able to be completed.
Most people’s exposure to the aftermath of natural disasters is limited to what they see on TV. Meanwhile having attendees travel to a place that is still in the process of recovering and putting them in contact with locals who experienced the disaster firsthand can allow them to gain a deeper appreciation of the impact of natural disasters. They are likely to return home with a different perspective. For conferences organized around themes like resilience, overcoming obstacles or recovering from adversity, holding your event in an area that is recovering from a natural disaster might be particularly apropos.
If you are considering holding your event in a region that is recovering from a disaster, it is essential that you visit the site before making your decision. Different regions and different properties take longer to recover than others. It’s important to see first-hand the state of the venue and determine whether its operations have returned to a point where it would be able to accommodate your event. Other considerations include whether there will be ongoing construction while your event is taking place and the impact that might have on your event. Over the course of your decision-making process, be sure to stay in regular contact with the property so that you are kept up-to-date regarding opening timelines, delays and other issues that could affect your event.
All in all, holding your event in an area recovering from a disaster is not without its risks. However, the rewards that come from helping a community get back on its feet, exposing attendees to something different and potentially being the first to enjoy a freshly renovated venue make it an avenue worth considering for your future events.
Sometimes disaster strikes after you’ve chosen your event location. How do you respond? How can you prepare for the unpredictable? That’s one of the topics discussed at this year’s Unconvention – Meetingmax’s annual user conference focused solely on event registration management.
*Images of Scrub Island, and surrounding areas Leverick, Saba Rock and The Bitter End Yacht Club, post-hurricane courtesy of Facebook and other social pages – Photographers Unknown
Jeff Duncan is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Meetingmax, the largest provider of online group housing reservation technology in Canada. Meetingmax’s software is used by travel organizations in dozens of North American destinations and by organizers of high profile events including South by Southwest, TED Conferences, Cisco Live, and Oracle OpenWorld. Meetingmax’s user conference, The Unconvention, takes an unconventional approach to your typical conference.