Florida Recovers From Hurricane Irma

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Hurricane Irma, meetings
Miami Beach after the storm

While the recovery in the Florida Keys and some West Coast destinations will take time, the major cities report that they are back in business.

Florida’s tourism industry continues to recover from Hurricane Irma, which closed down all the theme parks, from Walt Disney World to Sea World, shuttered the airports and had the cruise industry scrambling to cancel sailings and relocate ships. According to the web site Cruisecritic.com, several ports of call suffered extensive damage—at least 15 ports with eight almost destroyed—including on the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Maarten.

As this article was being posted on September 17, Monroe County officials had just given the green light to residents and businesses owners of the Lower Keys to return. Key West International Airport is home base to the National Guard, which is distributing supplies; it’s not expected to reopen to the public until October. Key West Mayor Craig Cates has targeted the start of Fantasy Fest—a 10-day festival that starts October 20—as the goal to officially reopen to tourists. Andy Newman, spokesman for Florida Keys tourism, told USA Today, “There are obviously tremendous impacts from the storm. But we’re not talking about years (to recover). We’re talking about months.”

Good news from Miami & Fort Lauderdale

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that the Miami Beach Convention Center, which is undergoing an extensive $615 million renovation, experienced no exterior damage and that nearly all hotels in the destination “suffered minimal to zero damage.” In Miami Beach, several hotels on or near the beach had reopened by September 15, including W Hotel Miami, the 1 Hotel South Beach. The Setai, Miami Beach, and the ME Miami.

The news from Fort Lauderdale was also positive, with the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center up and running and many hotels having remained open during the storm to provide shelter and accommodations to visitors and residents.  There were no reports of damage at the many hotels that dot the area’s coast.

In the Palm Beaches, Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, reported that the area “is ready and open for business, and we are welcoming visitors and major convention groups.” The Palm Beach County Convention Center is open and will host the 42nd annual Regional Airlines Association Conference September 24 to 27. David Fine, senior vice president of sales and market development at PGA National Resort & in Palm Beach Gardens, said the resort never lost power. “We were fortunate to remain fully operational during Hurricane Irma. We’re thrilled to have one of our largest conventions for the year checking in as planned.” John Tolbert, president and managing director of Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, also reported that his hotel emerged from Hurricane Irma without any major damages.

In Orlando, hotels remained open and Microsoft Ignite, which attracts 30,000 attendees to the Orange County Convention Center, will open as scheduled on September 25.

The latest from the West Coast

The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB reported that the region is still “in recovery mode after Hurricane Irma. The storm made landfall on mainland Florida at Marco Island. Crews are working as quickly as possible to restore power, phone and online service as well as water and other utilities, and that hotels are reopening daily as power is restored.”

The most serious damage was in Goodland, Everglades City and Immokalee. While Marco Island was hit hard, both the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and the Marco Island Hilton Beach Resort and Spa appeared to have escaped the worst, according to a report from the Naples Daily News.

Pamela Johnson, deputy director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, reported on Monday that all meeting hotels in the region, with the exception of South Seas Island Resort, are open, accepting guests and fully operational. South Seas Island Resort will reopen on September 20.

Learn more about Hurricane Irma’s impact on the Caribbean here. 

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.