The TV and web images coming from the Northeast last week were chilling in their likeness to other recent natural disasters such as Katrina and in previous crisis situations in New York City, 9/11 being obvious one. And while millions of people from North Carolina to New England and west to Ohio still grapple with the aftereffects of Super Storm Sandy, hotels in the stricken area continue to do what they can to help their communities and neighbors.
Of course, it’s not always easy for hoteliers. Many of them have also lost power or were damaged and have suffered lost business. Many other properties that are open in or near the storm centers are filled or near-filled as they accommodate people without homes or power, as well as news teams, utility crews and insurance company representatives. And except in a few exceptions, I haven’t heard of many hoteliers taking advantage of the situation by unfairly raising rates or imposing restrictions or other caveats on these guests in need.
In fact, I’ve heard many instances of hoteliers acting with dignity, compassion and charity before and after the storm. Some hotel companies, like IHG, have established protocols their properties can follow to help them deal with guest and employee needs following a disaster. Other companies, Marriott was one, alerted their frequent guest program members to opportunities to donate points to the Red Cross or other organizations to assist in the recovery efforts. The AH&LA has also provided leadership and communications to its members.
Lodging is a business of entrepreneurs, so many of the most heart-felt stories in the days following Sandy come from individual properties and their reactions to the stressful situation. Many hotels in and near New York City had to grapple with the problems caused by the scheduling of last Sunday’s New York City Marathon. Even though the event was cancelled two days ahead of time, many runners were in the city or on the way and had hotel reservations. Yet, most hotels were already filled with people from the region who had to flee their homes.
While some hoteliers persuaded these local guests to leave, many chose to turn away the marathoners so locals could maintain their refuges. Richard Nicotra, owner of a Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island, summed up the feeling of many hoteliers in the same situation. “These are my neighbors,” he told a local TV station. “Am I going to kick out my neighbors who lost everything, who have not a place to go, for someone who’s travelling here to run a race?”