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More Florida Convention Cities Up and Running; Extensive Damage in Caribbean


With Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa's meeting industries back up and running immediately after Hurricane Irma, three other important destinations—Miami, Palm Beach County and Jacksonville—declared themselves open for business again on Monday (Sept. 18).

Miami. Florida's largest city was off the grid for a few days after Irma because of flooding and extensive power outages. But that was all over by Monday, Sept. 18.

“We are up and running and ready for business,” says William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB. “No water in the streets; something like 97 percent of electric customers have power and meetings are under way right now.”

Talbert mentions a conference of a Wi-Fi hardware manufacturer, Ruckus Wireless, which began its event Sept 18 at Loews Miami Beach. Loews Chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch was there in person to great people, Talbert says. The 1,400-room Fontainebleau, a popular beachfront hotel that hosts large meetings, was also open on Sept. 18.

Palm Beach County. Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, the official DMO of Palm Beach County, says that because Irma only hit Palm Beach and West Palm Beach with outer storm bands, “the hurricane was more of a landscaping issue more than anything else.” The Regional Airline Association (RAA) began a four-day, 1,300-attendee conference in West Palm Beach on Sept. 24.

Jim Faulkner, a spokesman for the RAA, says the association asked its members to bring new personal hygiene items with them to the conference, and planned to put together personal hygiene kits for Irma victims as a CSR activity during the conference.

Jacksonville. On Sept. 18, Visit Jacksonville declared its meeting and tourism industry open for business.

“Fortunately, our convention center was not affected by Hurricane Irma, and all but one of our downtown convention hotels are open for business,” says Paul Astleford, president and CEO, Visit Jacksonville. “Unprecedented resources are being put towards restoring the affected areas and businesses. However, we are very happy to report that our tourism and meetings/conventions infrastructure is near completely restored and open for business.”

Florida Keys. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Silver Airways have resumed service into Key West International Airport, though overnight visitors are being asked to postpone immediate plans and contact their airlines and hotels for further details.

Currently, the island chain is targeting Oct. 20—the beginning of Key West’s Fantasy Fest—as its official reopening date. Areas such as the Key Largo and Key West have properties that have returned to regular operations and suffered the least amount of damage, while some oceanside resorts in other parts of the Keys (such as the Lower Keys) will require weeks or months of repairs.

Irma Damage in the Caribbean. Just as it was in Florida, some areas were badly hit while others were spared. Nassau in the Bahamas was unscathed. Resorts likethe Atlantis on Paradise Island and its neighbor, The Warwick, remained open throughout the storm and were welcoming guests after Irma, as were Sandals Royal Bahamian and Melia Nassau Beach Resort.

Hardest hit were the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barts and some parts of the Turks and Caicos. On St. Martin, the Westin Dawn Beach remained closed until further notice as of September and the Esmeralda Resort Hotel was 70 percent destroyed.

In the Turks and Caicos, the Sonesta Hotel was severely damaged and is closed for the rest of this year, while Beaches Turks and Caicos is scheduled to re-open Dec. 14.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was badly hit, the Westin St. John was closed until further notice, as was The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas.

Maria Damage to the Caribbean. A second hurricane, Maria, hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 19 and is hitting Turks and Caicos today. Authorities in Puerto Rico reported all power being out on the island and predicted it might be weeks or months until it was restored.

About the Author

Roland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.