When word came that Hurricane Ian would be approaching the eastern coast of Florida, hotels and businesses were left in a precarious and uncertain position. Many establishments closed as a result, leaving many with weeks without pay, in addition to damages caused to their community by the disaster.
Despite the setback, many businesses came back strong. The meetings industry in particular provided much support to the communities devastated by the Hurricane Ian’s impact. Meeting groups at Naples Grande Beach Resort, which had a brief closure, expressed interest in how they could meet and leave the area better than when they arrived.
Conferences such as the Florida Land Title Association, which was held Oct. 23-26, raised thousands of dollars for local efforts, including a community give-back event with Meals of Hope and a donation collection that scaled that earned tens of thousands of dollars. When BHG Financial Group hosted its 200-person conference in mid-October, they also offered their hand.
“There’s always surprises at every event,” Katie Wegerski, event coordinator for BHG, says, “but natural disasters you really don’t wish for, but we rolled with it and it ended up working out okay.”
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“When we heard there was a hurricane headed Naples’ way, we just kind of braced ourselves for what we might have to do and put some contingency plans in place. It was just constant communication with the resorts,” she says. “When we learned the hurricane hadn’t hit the hotel yet but there was no power and that the hotel was closed, that was when we started to get a little bit nervous. Then we decided we would stay the course and reevaluate as we were updated.”
Luckily, the power came back and the resort’s staff was ready to take on the event.
Although the event was prefaced by two weeks of uncertainty, Wegerski says, “Everything was executed as planned.”
In light of the community’s devastation, Wegerski says the event had a heavy drop off of attendees—about 75 people decided not to participate. “I think they felt bad about having a good time in an area that had suffered some devastation,” she says. “To counteract that we did implement some volunteer opportunities for our attendees if they wanted to provide some help to those hurricane relief efforts.”
The event had volunteer opportunities on the first day, where 10-15 attendees helped with debris cleanup, as well as sorting out donation materials, packing trucks and delivering them. “We also hosted a fundraiser at the event where we did gift card drop offs,” she says. “We raised about $7,000 in gift cards that was distributed to families in the direct area to help offset costs or get supplies.”
She believes the volunteering opportunities helped put some of the attendees’ minds at ease. “After we put the communication out there that we were planning on doing some volunteering, the drop off significantly stopped,” she says. “I think that helped make their decision easier, to come and want to participate.”
What can be learned from situations like this, is that, above all, communication should be prioritized. “I felt comfortable sticking with our plan because [Naples Grande Beach Resort] was so open about the status of the resort and it would’ve been different if there was significant damage or they didn’t feel the power was going to come on…it’s just [about] touching base every day and having that open, candid conversation. Without all the information, you can’t really make a plan, so just having constant communication is my best advice when dealing with a post-disastrous situation.”