When it Pours: 9 Event Planning Lessons From Toronto

Downtown TorontoThis week in Toronto, on  Monday, July 8, 2013, in the height of rush hour, the skies suddenly grew dark and a storm dropped enough rain on the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to cause flooding in the downtown core and other areas. Three days later, when I took these pictures, everything was fine.

Toronto is open for business, as usual.

With this in mind, how should an event planner react to reports of flash floods? It's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and think that one has to cancel a trip or avoid a particular destination for the foreseeable future. But it's reactions like this that make it challenging for destinations to recover.

So, before hitting the panic button and taking a destination "off the table":

  1. Pick up the phone. Ask the local convention bureau, tourist board and your hotel if the area where your group will be staying is even near the severe weather system.
  2. If it is, wait a couple of days and get an update. It's amazing how quickly some destinations can recover. In Toronto, for example, the storm hit on Monday and, by Tuesday, the subway system was fully operational again.
  3. Always have a back-up plan. Clearly one can't predict where the next storm clouds will appear. Make emergency preparedness a part of your plan for each and every event.
  4. Ask your hotel to help you identify back up accommodation in case you need it. For example, when the downpour hit Toronto, there were parts of the GTA including York Region where I am based that were unscathed. It would have been possible to divert a group that was in transit to another venue for a night or two.
  5. Always take along extra bottles of water and non-perishable snacks when in transit with groups.
  6. In the winter, bring along blankets for long bus trips.
    Suggest that guests always carry an extra pair of socks and gloves.
  7. Don't be quick to write off a destination. Remember that you may have to rely on support from others to keep your local economy thriving if your area is ever hit.
  8. Monitor local news sources. Fortunately, TV stations and newspapers from almost every destination have websites. Bad news and the images that accompany it circle the globe fast. Updates about how quickly things have improved are rare. 
  9. Most important, remember this too will pass.

Aftermath: These are photos I took from a bus traveling along the Don Valley Parkway and in downtown Toronto on Thursday (yesterday) in some of the areas that were flooded just 3 days earlier. (I travel on the same route where the train was flooded. My driver reported that, on Monday, the water level was high enough for water to come in through the door and cover the floor of his bus.)

Toronto Don Valley ParkwayDon Valley Parkway Toronto

Toronto Go TransitGo Transit Train Tracks

Toronto Don RiverToronto Lower Simcoe Street

As you can see the roads and the track on which the Go Transit train was flooded are clear. 

Toronto is very much open for business. What a difference a day (or 2, or 3) makes.

Consult these other Cvent blog posts for more discussions of what to do when there are unexpected natural or other events at a destination: Helping Destinations Recover After a Crisis, How Can Destinations Restore Confidence After a Crisis? Helping Destinations Recover After a Crisis, Is the Middle East "Off the Table" for Incentive Travel and Team Building Retreats? and Destination Marketing: Vermont as a Role Model.

Photo Credits: Toronto Team Building, Executive Oasis International

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