The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community filled nearly 500 room nights this month with two hastily scheduled meetings chased out of Florida by hurricanes.
The Scottsdale Conference Center had to turn away a big
group looking for last-minute accommodations because the hotel was already full.
As the third major hurricane in a month nears stormweary Florida, tourists and meeting planners are looking to the Valley as a more serene and less eventful destination.
And even though the onetwo-three punch of devastating storms is a rare occurrence, Florida’s weather may give travelers a reason to look to the Valley for future stays as well, several local hoteliers said.
"This has had a huge impact on us," Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, said of the recent rash of Florida hurricanes. "We signed one group on Thursday for a Sunday arrival. And we’ve had another six to eight inquiries from groups that want to come immediately."
Jarnagin said the hotel also has had a big boost in individual travel. It’s more difficult to track the cause of last-minute vacation reservations, she said, but some guests have said they were planing to go to Florida but opted for a desert vacation instead.
Other hoteliers said the same.
"We saw an immediate uptick in the volume of inquiries after the first hurricane (Charley) from hotels as well as meeting planners," said Liz Franzese, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Kierland Resort on the Scottsdale-Phoenix border. "And the pace of leisure business for September has taken a dramatic turn upwards."
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort has fielded several inquiries from meeting planners unsure of whether their attendees will be able to fly to their central Florida meeting if Ivan veers sharply east, said spokeswoman Carol Carter. But the hotel hasn’t booked any of that business yet.
"We had a call from a former client scheduled to go to Florida (on Sunday)," said David Reed, sales and marketing director for the Scottsdale Conference Resort. "But we were already full. I got the impression it was a backup plan — B, C or D. We don’t like to sell our product based on (the misfortunes of) others, but it’s good that they were considering us."
Reed said he already had a large group that called in March to book a fall meeting in Scottsdale after reading that Florida was expected to have a bad hurricane season.
At the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa, a group from Florida that planned to meet here arrived safely, but supporting audio-visual equipment didn’t. The group rented from the hotel instead, said David Muth, general manager, adding unexpected revenue.
Muth said, however, that the biggest impact to the Valley of the horrible weather in Florida, one of Arizona’s top business meeting competitors, might be the lingering memory of the weather rampage.
"It’s been so destructive that a prudent person might have to think there are better places to go," Muth said.
Chris Kenney, marketing director for the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, doesn’t want the Valley to profit at the expense of Florida residents and businesses, but he admits the devastating rash of bad weather and evacuations in Florida might give meeting planners and leisure travelers pause when looking to book future stays.
Kenney said he’s had two calls in the last few weeks from meeting planners who had previously been scouting for future meeting sites exclusively in Florida.
"Now, because of the weather, they decided to shop this market," he said.
Franzese said the same.
"We are now top of mind," she said. "Meeting planners considering Florida in hurricane season 2005 may be getting a little skittish."