Bracing for Irma

Author: Christopher Durso       

A screenshot of Hurricane Irma’s projected path from the National Hurricane Center, taken at approximately 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 6.

UPDATE / 12 p.m. ET,  Sept. 8 — In a statement released today, Meet Puerto Rico President and CEO Milton Segarra reported: “The Puerto Rico Convention Center and most hotels are fully operational, and accepting reservations. Most damages are restricted to debris, which is being removed. The Luis Munoz Marin International Airport is up and running on generators and reporting no structural damage. No groups or site visits have been canceled.”

UPDATE / 11 a.m. ET on Sept. 7 — Since this story was published, Hurricane Irma devastated several small Caribbean islands, killing at least three people, before brushing past Puerto Rico, where nearly 1 million people were left without power. Irma is expected to reach South Florida early Saturday, Sept. 9. Miami-Dade County has ordered the mandatory evacuation of coastal areas.

5:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 6 — Houston has barely begun drying out and tallying the damage from Hurricane Harvey, but the next potentially cataclysmic weather event is already on the way. Hurricane Irma — one of the most powerful storms ever recorded — is moving through the Caribbean, straight toward South Florida. And Hurricane Jose, recently upgraded from a tropical storm, is just behind it. Islands in the Caribbean are hunkering down, while the Florida Keys has ordered mandatory evacuations. Destination professionals throughout the region are working to stay on top of Irma — including at Meet Puerto Rico (MPR) and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), both of which Convene talked to on Wednesday.

PUERTO RICO: ‘Unchanged as of Now’
Based on the most recent forecasts from the National Hurricane Center, Meet Puerto Rico expected Irma to avoid hitting Puerto Rico directly, passing near or just north of the island sometime in the afternoon or evening on Wednesday. “However, Meet Puerto Rico has prepared and readied ourselves for Hurricane Irma, and this week have urged our members, staff, and clients to take the appropriate measures to protect life and property,” Milton Segarra, MPR’s president and CEO, said in a statement to Convene. “Situation permitting, key Meet Puerto Rico personnel will remain on-call to assist where we may safely do so.”

There isn’t currently any MPR-generated group business meeting in Puerto Rico right now. MPR’s sales team is in contact with upcoming clients “to keep them abreast of the situation once Irma passes,” Segarra said, while its destination-services team is working with local hotels and other venues to reschedule anything that was canceled this week because of Irma.

“The calendar of events remains unchanged as of now, with no foreseeable changes in the future,” Segarra said. “We don’t anticipate this affecting future meetings and conventions in Puerto Rico. We are in the traditional hurricane season, and hurricanes of this magnitude are rare. We will assess any potential damages and repair them as quickly as possible to accommodate our upcoming groups. We expect to restart operations as swiftly as possible after the situation normalizes.”

MIAMI: ‘A Very Light Schedule’
Sometimes, notes Rolando Aedo, GMCVB’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, it’s better to be lucky than good. Because the Miami Beach Convention Center is in the middle of a $615-million renovation and expansion, the destination doesn’t have any citywide business now or in the near future. “We’re operating on a very light schedule because of the renovation,” Aedo said in an interview with Convene, “so that is what it is.”

As of late in the afternoon on Wednesday, when we spoke to Aedo, Miami-Dade County hadn’t been evacuated. GMCVB has posted a travel advisory on its homepage, with information about hotels, evacuation routes, and so on, and is updating that regularly. Area hotel availability is actually somewhat scarce right now, ironically, because many properties are hosting people who were displaced from the Keys.

GMCVB is also keeping in careful contact with clients that are bringing group business to Miami next week and beyond. And it’s looking even farther down the road. “There is some sensitivity, I think, with what happened with Harvey, and now with Irma, and then there’s Jose out there — it’s been quiet for several years, but this will compel us to better educate meeting planners on the reality of the situation,” Aedo said. “With Harvey fresh in our minds, with the coming of Irma, we are getting more questions about meeting in Miami during certain key periods —September being one of those.”

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.