Rapid Recovery: When Mother Nature Hits Your Event Destination

Toronto flash flood

Just over a week ago, less than an hour after I walked in the door after a great week at IMEX America, some disappointing news landed in my email inbox. Several rooms in the beautiful boutique hotel where I had helped one of my corporate clients arrange a buy-out for a weekend retreat had been damaged during the thunderstorms and flash floods that hammered Toronto, the previous day (on October 16, 2014).

This was just over a month after the Las Cabos airport and several Las Cabos resorts experienced extensive damage during Hurricane Odile.

When the unthinkable happens and an event is coming up quickly, it's important for event planner to act fast in order to recover quickly.

I'll be facilitating the retreat in mid-November and my travel schedule until then is extensive. It was late Friday night and I had precisely one business day in Toronto before heading to Mexico a couple of days before another client would be arriving for their incentive trip. Group sales departments are closed on the weekend. What did I do?

  1. Don't hit the panic button and cancel....yet.
    Get a status update and recovery timeline.

    The hotel confirmed damage assessment followed by repairs would not be completed in time for the retreat.
  2. Make a list and check it twice.
    I made a list starting with venues to which I had originally submitted RFPs. I eliminated venues that came in over budget and outside the preferred location.

    Keeping in mind the property the group had selected, I did more searches and identified 3 other properties that fit the requirements.

    The Cvent Supplier Network is a real time saver when time is of the essence.
  3. Reach out even if it is "after hours" and put "Urgent " in the subject line.
    Outline the situation and your requirements concisely.
  4. Simplify your request.
    Request availability and pricing for guest rooms, function space, and meeting packages only. Stress the point that you don't require a full proposal, just the basics.
  5. Contact the venue directly and request assistance from the duty manager.
    Duty Managers can usually confirm basics (i.e. size and availability of guest rooms and meeting facilities on your preferred dates). This will help you quickly eliminate venues that aren't a good fit.

    After hours, some account managers check emails for emergencies. In a pinch, duty managers and hotel concierges can get a message to the Group Sales Manager.

    Cosmopolitan Hotel, which did not have space, was very helpful in suggesting alternatives and one of its suggestions was eventually selected. I was fortunate, the group sales manager for the property that landed the business came into the office on Saturday morning and got everything ready for me.
  6. Prepare a summary for the client.
    Include all options, pricing, photos, and links to videos. Identify your top recommendation.
  7. Contact the client equipped with the challenge and proposed solutions.
    Let the client know what happened with the original venue. Brief them on their options and the required timeline for a decision. Request an emergency conference call.
    By Sunday, afternoon I had a decision. The winner, the hotel that bent over backwards to respond to our request Bond Place Hotel in downtown Toronto.

    Lesson Learned: Always have an emergency contact for every client.
  8. When you have a decision, request a full proposal, contract and credit card authorization form.
    By Monday morning, I had a contract from the hotel and the client indicated they would return it by the end of the business day.
  9. If possible, give back by helping the original destination recover and booking another event at the original venue when it is back on its feet.

There you have it, a 2-day turn-around. For larger groups, the timeline will, of course, be longer. There may be a need to involve the tourism board or CVB to ensure timely responses.

Fortunately, Mother Nature doesn't hit events often. Keep this weather recovery plan handy for the next time your venue or event destination is rained out or hit by a blizzard and you have to move an event.

Tech Lessons from Hurricane Sandy, When it Pours: 9 Event Planning Lessons From Toronto, Incentive Travel: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy, and Destination Marketing: Vermont as a Role Model.

Photo Credit: mark.watmough

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