REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey wreaks havoc on portions of Texas—most notably Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S.—and now Louisiana, hoteliers are left to examine exactly how much damage their properties have suffered, how they can take care of their employees and what they can do to help out the population in surrounding areas.
Hotels are poised to play a big part in the response to the storm, as many residents are displaced from their homes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has suspended the state’s hotel occupancy tax in impacted areas.
Hotel News Now reached out to hotel companies to gauge the impact of the storm from their perspective and get a sense of what they are doing in response.
The 312-room Hotel Derek in Houston, which is part of Destination Hotels, escaped flood damage and remains open, sheltering guests who couldn’t make it out of the city in time, as well as people from the neighborhood who were displaced by the storm.
Stephanie Summerall, the hotel’s sales and marketing director, said they were “incredibly lucky and fortunate” to have escaped the floodwaters, and she praised the hotel’s staff for working together to do whatever it takes to help.
“The team (of about 40 people) at the hotel now have been there since Friday, and they’re working in shifts to bring in people and keep them safe,” she said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before—front-desk staff, waiters, management, kitchen staff, engineers—some of them haven’t even seen their own homes yet, but they are serving our community. … Even in people’s darkest hours, they’re being extra generous and kind to their neighbors.”
The luxury boutique hotel has lowered rates and food-and-beverage costs “because it’s the right thing to do,” Summerall said. The hotel’s regular vendors and suppliers aren’t able to deliver, so she said the hotel staff is getting creative, driving their own trucks all around the area to find open retail stores so they can get food and drinks for guests.
“Our hotel is at an elevation that’s safe,” she said. “So our objective now and what we’re talking about is what we’re going to do in the coming weeks to help our community. There are a lot of hotels in our area that have flooded and will need to rebuild. There will be displaced families, plus work crews, insurance companies, lots of people. We’re just hoping we can be a home base for people coming.”
Hilton, which has 49 owned and franchised hotel properties with more than 1,000 team members in Houston and a total of 110 properties in Harvey’s path, said in a statement that “all but one (of the properties) remain open and operational at this time.”
“As we continue to monitor the impact of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the surrounding areas, our thoughts are with those who have been and continue to be affected by this devastating storm,” the company stated. “We are moved by the acts of selflessness exhibited by our hotels and team members as they go above and beyond to help the communities where they live and work during this challenging time.”
Hilton has issued a blanket cancellation policy waiver for guests traveling to and within the region affected by the storm; guests are encouraged to call 1-800-HILTONS for the most updated information. Hilton Honors members also have the opportunity to donate their loyalty points to the American Red Cross.
The company has also committed $500,000 to the relief and recovery efforts led by the American Red Cross and its Hilton Responds Fund, which provides assistance to its affected team members in the path of the storm. In addition, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a private entity formed in 1944 by the founder of Hilton Hotels, has pledged another $500,000 to relief efforts.
Amy McDaniel, SVP of food and beverage at Remington Hotels—the third-party management company that is part of the Ashford Group—said three of her company’s hotels were damaged in the storm: The Embassy Suites Houston, the Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake and the Sugar Land Marriott Town Square.
McDaniel noted each of the three hotels are currently operating at or near capacity, and the company’s first priority has been to make sure each property receives the “vital supplies” to maintain operations.
“We’ve already sent trucks and have people working to assess damage and get that remedied,” she said.
She said the company also has a plan to help employees who are affected by the storm. The first stage of that plan has been to authorize each property to make purchases to replace vital lost items like clothing. The second step is the creation of a “giving tree” at Remington and Ashford’s joint corporate offices in Dallas, which will allow corporate staff members to “adopt” employees negatively affected by the storm.
“We’re looking to fill their needs and send a truck” with those supplies, she said. “We’re hoping to personalize it (to each employee) rather than take a broad-strokes approach. That’s our No. 1 focus at this point—looking within to make sure we’re taking care of our people.”
McDaniel said the next stage for the company, after the dust settles, will be to help and honor first responders. Plans for “appreciation events” are still being formulated.
The Valencia Group
The Valencia Group operates five hotels, four of which are in Texas, including one in Houston, the Hotel Sorella Citycentre. Amy Trench, corporate director of brand marketing, said many employees of the Houston-based company are affected in one way or another, though the hotel is operational.
“Hotel Sorella Citycentre is open and doing well; there’s very little water,” she said. “We’re operating there with a limited staff of about 30, and everyone else was encouraged to stay home. We’re sending reinforcements (from elsewhere in the region). … Having hotels in the area, we’ve known how to prepare for hurricanes, and we were as prepared as we could have been for such a devastating event.”
Hospitality Properties Trust
Hospitality Properties Trust, a Massachusetts-based real estate investment trust, owns 35 hotels in the state of Texas, including several in Houston.
President and COO John Murray said early Tuesday none of his company’s hotels have been shut down by the storm.
“Obviously the situation is changeable as conditions are very bad, but all of our hotels are open and operational to varying degrees in terms of regular power, ability to resupply,” he said via email. “All the hotels are being as hospitable as possible in the circumstances—easing cancellation charges, if any, extending stays where possible, encouraging safety and patience.”
Extended Stay America
Tom Buoy, EVP of marketing and revenue management at Extended Stay America, said of the company’s 16 Houston hotels, only one or two properties experienced any flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and all of ESA’s Houston properties remain open and operating.
GMs of several Houston ESA properties praised the altruistic actions of their employees and guests during and after the hurricane, Buoy said. Some guests have even given up their rooms to local residents displaced by flooding.
“Everybody is helping everybody,” Buoy said. “What is remarkable is guests and associates are cooking for each other, sharing food, sharing what resources they have, and so you hope that out of adversity rises something far greater than the lives we live on an individual and daily basis. So you see a community coming together to be stronger than it was previously.”
ESA has even provided guestrooms to hotel employees who have suffered flood damage at their own homes during the recovery period.
“But while they’re staying in our hotels, they’re also working basically normal shifts and assisting as they can,” he said. “So if you can imagine: To have gone through that type of tragedy, and yet … find within themselves … the desire to help their fellow man and do these things, is extraordinary. To overcome that personal adversity and be able to provide our guests with great service in the environment they’re working in is a reflection of our company’s values.”
Buoy called Hurricane Harvey “unprecedented” and said the storm’s impact “will be felt for a long time.”
“But that market will rebuild,” he said.
One-third of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association’s membership lives in Texas, so many are affected, said Hitesh Patel, AAHOA vice chairman and CEO and president of Capital City Hospitality Group, which is based in Austin, Texas.
Patel’s focus is on forming partnerships with state and national organizations to keep AAHOA’s membership informed and ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with what’s next, he said.
“The hotels (in the affected areas) have roof damage, flooding, water everywhere, some are completely underwater,” he said. “By the time they get to them, there will be mold. From mold to renovations to insurance claims, it’s going to be a long process.”
Patel said AAHOA and the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association have already started working to coordinate recovery and rebuilding efforts. One effort underway is a roomnight donation bank to aid evacuees.
“We’re trying to get 100 hotels in the area willing to donate five rooms a night for the next 10 days or so,” he said. “We’re also setting up a FEMA command center.”
AAHOA and its local partners and state agencies are planning several emergency Town Hall meetings around Texas next week, Patel said.
“It’s mainly to educate our members, but we’re also hearing some issues about price gouging, and we want to make sure our members aren’t doing that,” he said.
Patel said the goal of these efforts is to help each other and help the community.
“We want to make sure we’re way ahead of the game,” he said. “And we want to make sure our members are donating to the right causes and charities, where the money will affect the people.”
Choice Hotels International issued a statement in response to the storm:
“Our thoughts are with all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, including our guests, franchisees and associates. This historic flooding will have a lasting impact, and our Choice family has been working to lend a helping hand. Choice has more than 130 hotels in Harvey’s expanded impact area—most are operating and some are not. We have been monitoring the situation closely and assisting our franchisees and guests, focusing on ensuring that all are safe. Franchisees in the surrounding areas are also participating in the FEMA Emergency Lodging Assistance Program, which supports communities by providing temporary housing for emergency workers and people displaced by the flooding.
In addition, Choice Privileges has created a special opportunity with our points redemption partner, the American Red Cross, and will match member donations, up to $25,000.”
Marriott International also issued a statement:
“Our hearts go out to the people and communities that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Marriott International has over 30 hotels in the path of the storm. While most of our hotels remain open, we are assessing the extent of impact on each hotel and efforts are underway to fully restore operations in those properties more significantly affected by the storm. We express our appreciation to associates who have tirelessly helped co-workers, guests, local authorities and members of their community to weather the storm.
“To help those in need, Marriott International and The J. Willard & Alice S. Marriott Foundation are each contributing $250,000 to the American Red Cross, for a total contribution of $500,000, to assist those communities and individuals impacted by the hurricane. In addition, members of our Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards loyalty programs have the option of donating points as contributions to the American Red Cross.
“Hotels in the impacted area are waiving cancellation fees, but details will vary depending on the hotel so we encourage our customers to call 800-228-9290 for more information about their reservations. Those in countries outside of the United States seeking information about the impact of the storm should call the Marriott International toll-free number in their country.”
Xenia Hotels & Resorts
Xenia Hotels & Resorts, which has three properties in Houston and one in Austin, issued a statement following the storm’s initial landfall, stating that their hotels had avoided “significant property damage.”
“Our thoughts go out to the people and communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” President and CEO Marcel Verbaas said in the statement. “We continue to monitor the storm, but are confident in our hotel management teams’ abilities to take care of their employees and guests. We are assessing the financial impact to our business, but for now are focused on supporting the operating teams at our properties as they cope with this natural disaster.”
By the HNN editorial staff
Staff members Sean McCracken, Stephanie Ricca, Robert McCune, Dan Kubacki and Danielle Hess contributed to this report.