Courier December Courier - Page 16

BUSINESS The Interview INDUSTRY INSIGHTS FROM NTA MEMBERS When disaster strikes a destination BY BOB ROUSE In May 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, causing 158 deaths and $2.8 billion in property damage to the community of 50,150 people. In late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New York City, and the storm surge caused power outages and unprecedented flooding to the city’s transit systems, airports, seaports, roads and tunnels. And last November, a group of wildfires in and around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, claimed 14 lives, burned 16,000 acres and damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 buildings. Whenever disaster strikes a destination, local leaders—including tourism professionals—face countless concerns related to safety, infrastructure and recovery. Following a season of hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, along with wildfires in California’s Napa Valley and in Oregon, Courier reached out to three NTA members that have dealt with disaster, and these DMOs share their experiences and advice here. Lori Simms Deputy director of marketing Missouri Division of Tourism Chris Heywood Senior vice president NYC & Company Courier: From a travel and tourism per- spective, just how bad was the damage? Simms: More than 2,000 hotel rooms were occupied by residents as well as rescue and recovery personnel, and three events planned for later in the month had to be rescheduled. Of the town’s 23 hotel properties, though, only one was still off-line after four months. (Simms consulted with Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin CVB, for this article.) 12 December 2017 Marci Claude Public relations manager Gatlinburg (Tennessee) CVB Heywood: In New York, you just don’t expect hurricanes. Lower Manhattan took quite a beating and was without power, and there was devastation to several residential areas. Claude: The greatest impact of the wildfires was predominantly on the borders of town, where fire damaged or destroyed private residential properties, rental cabins and condominiums. The downtown business district was largely untouched by the wildfires. Courier: How long did it take to get back to (mostly) full operation? Claude: December is a high visitation period for Gatlinburg, so it was a top priority to get the city cleared and back open for holiday visitors. The city opened to the public just 10 days after the dev- astating wildfires. Some hotels and busi- nesses needed extra time for cleaning up the smoke damage, but most of the downtown business district was open and operational for visitors by Christmas. Simms: More than 9,000 residents were displaced, and Joplin hotels housed the majority of them for nearly six months. As the residents transitioned out of the hotels into other permanent and tem- porary housing, FEMA workers, insur- ance adjusters and contractors moved in. Joplin hotels benefitted from the lat- ter for nearly three years. Heywood: We came back pretty quickly. It took a long time to get residential areas back up, but most tourism areas were up and running in time to prepare for the holiday season. Courier: What did you do to convince travelers you were up and running? Heywood: We assessed what was open and then communicated it. We worked with the travel media, used social media and continually updated the website. When we came out and said we were open for busi- ness—in coordination with the mayor’s office—it was an important step for getting our story out and managing our message. Simms: Historic Route 66 runs through the northern portion of Joplin, and it was untouched. The CVB communicated with Route 66 partners and travel plan- ners that Joplin was open for business. None of the city’s attractions were impacted, but the CVB needed to com- municate that lodging was limited. Claude: It’s important to understand that our visitors are loyal. Families have