By Terry Trucco
It’s been a tough week for New York, the city’s hotels and guests staying – or trying to stay – here. What was it like when the lobby flooded? How did guests react? How bad was the damage? And what can we expect next?
The view from Zone A
It was like flipping a switch.
On Monday night, almost on the stroke of 8 p.m., the tidal wave surged, and water unleashed by Hurricane Sandy hit land. It gobbled up West Street in front of the Marriott New York Downtown and pushed up through the drains. It rushed in through the hotel’s closed doors, flooding the basement and surging up the steps leading to the lobby. Within 15 minutes three inches of water blanketed the lobby’s polished marble floor.
The 490-room hotel was closed up tight, operating on generator power and housing an 11-member crew including the general manager and chief engineer. Guests had been evacuated to other Marriott hotels on Sunday, the staff sent home. Yet even a full day of preparation couldn’t protect a waterfront property from a raging storm as the Marriott and other nearby hotels in Manhattan’s infamous, low-lying Zone A discovered.
The Andaz Wall Street, Ritz Carlton New York Battery Park, W New York Downtown, Best Western Plus Seaport Inn and the Wall Street Inn also sustained water damage. Only the Conrad New York, which was also evacuated, escaped (it reopened Wednesday evening).
At present, the Marriott, Andaz and Ritz Carlton are set to reopen November 9. The W Downtown is closed until further notice. And the Wall Street Inn website asks guests to consult the hotel’s Facebook page for updates.
Sunday was the proverbial calm before the storm. Nearly everyone had been moved from the Marriott to other hotels except a group of 30 French-speaking tourists from Canada. “They were out sightseeing, and we couldn’t reach them to let them know they were being evacuated,” says Kathleen Duffy, public relations director for Marriott NYC. They returned to the hotel late in the evening laden with shopping bags, astonished to discover a deserted hotel and a killer storm in the offing – and learn they’d be spending the night elsewhere.
As noted in an earlier post, the enormous crane that came unhinged during the storm and dangled over West 57th Street caused the evacuation of three hotels – Le Parker Meridien, the Salisbury and West 57th Street by Hilton Club, which remain closed. The three are set to reopen November 7.
Forget deep cleaning
As public transportation has returned, so have hotel staff members. But staffing hotels proved a challenge during the early part of the week, when workers in the outer boroughs couldn’t get to their jobs. At the Four Seasons Hotel New York, where guests paying upwards of $900 a night expect more than a modicum of service, the hotel set aside around 25 percent of the rooms to put up staff on Sunday and Monday nights to keep the place running smoothly, USA Today reported.
Elsewhere The 1,781-room Sheraton New York turned over around 100 rooms, mostly doubles, to staff members to insure engineering, culinary and cleaning tasks were accomplished, the paper reported. Staff also spent the night at Marriott hotels early in the week.
Still, most hotels were understaffed for several days. “Guests do understand that we might not be doing deep cleaning in every room, but we are supplying fresh towels and amenities, removing trash and doing light cleaning,” says Duffy.
Tweet ’em in
Twitter proved a quick and easy for hotels to contact guests — and reel in potential guests. The New York Hilton tweeted that it had reopened its fitness center and was screening children’s movies in a ballroom for kids stuck at the hotel during the storm on Monday. And The Mark tweeted: “Stay safe New Yorkers. We are obviously open for business, for those in downtown #NewYork consider us a safe haven from #Sandy.” It worked. The New York Post reports that among the local guests fleeing their downtown digs for the higher ground at The Mark were actors Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, model Helena Christensen and actor Russell Crowe.
You can’t find a room in New York – but are hotels making a killing?
Not necessarily, industry observers say. Just because a hotel is full doesn’t mean all the rooms are occupied by paying guests, as noted above.
Hotels that lost power and stayed open sold rooms at reduced rates. And forced closings wiped more than 3,000 rooms off the market in Manhattan alone. “It’s never a good thing when a 500-room hotel is closed for two or three days let alone a week,” says Duffy.
Sandy’s timing was also devastating. Irene blew in during August, traditionally a slow time for the city’s hotels. But fall is high season, and late October and early November are prime time for meetings and conventions. Advance notice about the storm resulted in “record cancellations and a reduced level of ‘stranded guests,’” Bjorn Hanson, dean at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, told HOTELS magazine. His prediction: “The effect of the storm on the lodging industry will be unprecedented with the exception of September 2001.”
Hotels are packed at the moment. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers were homeless (their regular New Jersey hotel was without power) and headed home directly Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, Hotelchatter reports. But future occupancy looks fluid and unpredictable. Expect the cancellation of the New York Marathon to amplify the uncertainty.
Want to help? A good place to start is the Mayor’s Fund: https://www.nyc.gov/html/fund/html/donate/donate.shtml