2015-02-05 / Front Page

Hyatt Staff Guides Guides During Storm

By James Merolla

Tour guides gave Newport kudos for running a top-notch conference, despite blizzard conditions. Tour guides gave Newport kudos for running a top-notch conference, despite blizzard conditions. There is four-star service, four-diamond inns, and then there is what the staff of the Hyatt Regency Newport did for 350 blizzard-stranded tour guides last week.

The staff created games in the hallways, slept in-house overnight in order to continue service, and remained through double shifts; the chef even visited those he fed.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, tour guides from around the country and the world descended on the city for the 28th annual ITMI Symposium and Reunion. ITMI, the International Tour Management Institute, trains people to become professional tour directors and guides.

The Hyatt Regency on Goat Island was sold out for the five-day symposium, with overflow bookings at additional properties in Newport and Middletown.

Timothy Walsh, vice president of sales at Discover Newport, reports that his organization is involved in approximately 95 meetings and conventions per year, with about 10 of this magnitude, but adds that each major lodging property also sells on their own so the number held in the city is actually much higher. That being said, Walsh acknowledges that it is unprecedented to have a major conference like this here in January.

“The ITMI conference was amazing, one of the best conferences we have hosted in my 25 years as tourism director here in Newport,” said Evan Smith, president of Discover Newport. “This group could have picked any destination in America and they selected

Newport in January. So 350 delegates arrive from all over the United States and we get hit with a huge blizzard! This could have been a disaster." But it wasn't.

“The staff at the Hyatt went above and beyond the call for hospitality to make this group comfortable and well fed during the storm. Many of their employees had to sleep at the hotel in order to service the group,” Smith said.

Walsh points out that it was a "perfect storm" in many ways. "These people run tours and tour programs, and are used to putting a positive spin on problems for their guests when things go wrong. This time, however, they were on the receiving end – and could not have been more gracious. They were all 'OK, we are going to make this fun' and they did. When I suggested the Polar Plunge, one man said to me, 'You can't put that out if you don't mean it,' so we did it."

“The staff created impromptu fun-filled evenings with activities in the hotel lobby, including live music and a glow party,” said Hyatt Goat Island General Manager Bob LaCasse.

LaCasse couldn’t have been happier with his team.

“I am proud of the Hyatt Newport staff rallying together to provide exceptional hospitality service,” he said.

"As a team, we created a contingency plan and established a command center with life safety items and emergency contacts to handle all and any potential storm-related situations.”

The tour guides – who couldn’t get out for more than two days of the five due to statewide travel bans – got their entertainment in unexpected ways.

Were they unhappy? Far from it, by all reports. "These tour operators came from all over the country," Walsh said. "I'll bet that 90 percent of them have never been caught in a blizzard before and they made the most of it. They were all great sports."

Rather than being completely disappointed with Newport whited out, guest comments supplied by the hotel indicated the opposite:

“The staff was incredible throughout this unique experience and should be recognized for their hard work and efforts.”

“They kept everyone informed, fed us and went above and beyond. Management moved through the crowd constantly making sure everyone was happy. The chef even worked the crowds. Your entire staff was there to make it a wonderful experience and I am sure they never slept!!”

“Be sure that you never change this staff.”

“The bottom line is these people are the ones who decide where their groups go. For us to have all these important decision-makers in Newport was a huge opportunity to show them firsthand all the interesting attractions and services groups can experience here,” added Smith. “They left super impressed with Newport–which will definitely result in a significant number of new group bookings for our hotels, attractions and restaurants in the next year."

During the other days, the guests enjoyed visiting mansions, attractions, and businesses in the area.

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