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Hotels filled to capacity in wake of Hurricane Sandy

- Judy Maxwell (Assistant Editor)
Nearly a week after the monster storm made landfall, residents are still reeling from Sandy's devastation. Here, Mark Baronowski of Bay Head, N.J., begins the arduous process of shoveling sand from the living room of one destroyed home.

Whatever industry lost in cancellations before the storm it is making up during recovery mode, say experts.

Whatever revenue hotels in the North and Mid East of the US believe they lost to Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught last week, they are more than making up for today.

FEMA said it has already dispensed close to $200 million in emergency housing assistance and has put 34,000 people in New York and New Jersey up in hotels and motels. 

One hotel consulting company said for displaced residents who can afford it, many are paying rack or walk-up rates, meaning up to $700 a night at a Hampton Inn in NYC, for example.

‘Any hotel that is open right now will be performing well,’ said Stephen Rushmore Jr., president and CEO of Hotel Valuation Services or HVS. Rushmore and his family live in New York, and were displaced by the October 31 super storm that hammered the East Coast for days, destroying property and flooding people out of their homes.

Millions of residents in New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania are still without power, and have flocked to hotels for shelter and some light. Rushmore said his staff reports most properties at all levels in the tri-state area are sold out.

Besides the few who can afford to pay for shelter out of their own pockets, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with Corporate Lodging Consultants to find disaster victims hotel rooms. CLC has a list of participating hotels and motels, who accept FEMA’s $70 per day reimbursement.

Bhavesh B. Patel of ADM Hotels, owns three properties in the Mideast region. He said his properties – 270 rooms in all – are 80 to 90 percent at capacity.

‘The storm has not negatively impacted us because storm victims have practically taken over our hotels,’ said Patel, who is a regional director with AAHOA. He said most of the AAHOA members in his region – more than 300 – are seeing their hotels full with displaced residents. Almost all of them are participating in the FEMA and American Red Cross shelter programs. Those who are not, he said, are offering their rooms at a discounted rate.

One of Patel’s properties, the Runnemede Inn & Suites, has a restaurant connected to it, the Ninth Avenue Bar & Grill, where some of the displaced guests are eating for free. They had to flee their homes without any cash or credit cards, he said. ‘We open early in the morning and stay open late at night.’

Both Rushmore and Patel say the biggest problem plaguing hotels and other businesses in the storm-damaged region is lack of power. ‘They are slowly but surely getting it back,’ said Patel, who added it’s difficult to gauge the impact the storm has had on his fellow hoteliers because they have not been able to contact them in days.

The AAHOA director wants to get the word out that the organization plans to hold town hall meetings where hoteliers can learn how to file for disaster aid and submit insurance claims. A meeting is set for Monday, November 12, in Princeton, N.J., said the AAHOA office.

Rushmore said, so far, anecdotal evidence indicates that as many as 100 hotels in Manhattan were temporarily closed as a result of the storm, with others reporting varying degrees of damage. In an e-mail blast to clients, Rushmore said, ‘Properties throughout the region have been affected, primarily due to the enormity of the power outages. As communication improves, we will no doubt learn of hotels that have suffered significant and potentially permanent damage – particularly those located in the most-hard-hit areas.’

Smith Travel Research also anticipates surprises in its data gathering. ‘Hurricane Sandy-related comparables will be a recurring theme in the coming weeks. We will continue to monitor its impact as more data is reported and additional information unfolds,’ said Brad Garner, COO at Smith Travel Research, which releases weekly updates on key metrics in the US hotel industry.

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