Incentive Travel: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

Generally, weather in the Caribbean is beautiful, but you never know. Even during hurricane season in the Western Hemisphere, major storms, particularly those that come late in the season, are rare. For example, one of my clients travelled to a beautiful Montego Bay resort for a 4-day group event that my company had organized. Some guests had extended their stay beyond the group event. Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Due to exceptional service by the airline, resort and DMC, my clients were comfortable and safe during Hurricane Sandy and they returned safely to Canada at their scheduled departure time.

Bad weather happens. But before it does, here are 12 take-aways to help event planners prepare for when Mother Nature strikes or natural disasters occur.

  1. Ensure that hotel and airline emergency procedures, early departure and cancellation policies of selected are clearly stated in contracts signed by clients.Some airlines provide accommodation if flights are cancelled due to emergencies, natural disasters and severe weather. Others don’t. Some hotels extend the group rate if guests can’t depart on their scheduled date.
  2. Brief clients about possible emergency scenarios and the type of information required to provide assistance.
  3. File (or ensure that the client files) a list of all attendees and their hotels with the destination’s consulate or embassy.

    Include names and contact information for the members of the hotel’s M.I.C.E. team.Here are U.S., Canada and European Union consulates and embassies.

  4. Obtain emergency contact information for participant as well as information about allergies, food sensitivities and medical issues.
    Summarize this information in a spreadsheet for hotel(s).It doesn’t happen often but a few clients may object to asking employees to provide medical information. Ask the client to check with its legal departments about why this is important.As a compromise, prepare a short form in duplicate. Ask participants to provide the completed forms in sealed, envelopes with their names and marked confidential. Ask the company to provide the sets of envelopes to 2 members of the executive or HR team who are traveling with the group, In an emergency, provide the required envelopes to medical personnel. Shred or return the envelopes to individuals after the trip.
  5. U.S. companies should ask travelers to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). For Canada, registration is through Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
  6. Identify the emergency services number and locations of hospitals and clinics at your destination. 
    It’s 9-1-1 in the U.S. and Canada and 1-1-2 in the European Union.
  7. When there is a severe weather warning or an emergency, send a group list with more detailed information to the department that handles foreign emergencies for the country of origin of the majority of participants. This will be used if evacuation becomes necessary.
    Include names, dates of birth, mobile numbers and e-mail addresses, schedule arrival and departure dates. While many airlines and hotels no longer require this, passport numbers are important for emergency services.For Canadians, send it to Emergencies 24/7 operated by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
  8. Consult the airline website for alerts and flight updates.
  9. Get regular updates from Group Sales or the MICE Department at hotels.
  10. Brief your client and/or employees about their options. 
    Some companies will insist that all employees return home immediately. Others will leave the decision up to employees if they have extended their stay after the group event is over.
  11. Stay in touch with individuals who have elected to remain at the destination.Your DMC can greatly assist you.
  12. During emergencies, use the services of Tourist Board or Convention Bureaus.
    During Hurricane Sandy, I was pleased that, by contacting @askjamaica on Twitter, the Jamaica Tourist Board was immediately able to contact the members of the group who had re-located outside the group block and quickly confirm that the guests were safe, comfortable and in good spirits.

Everything worked out fine for my clients. They had a great time in Jamaica and can hardly wait to return. The whole experience underscored best practices for incentive travel. I hope that you have found these tips beneficial.


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