Sector discussion says don’t trust hotel charts

Representatives from nine Canadian incentive houses begin their Journey of the Senses tour of India’s Golden Triangle organized by Creative Travel. (Allan Lynch photo)

A LinkedIn discussion is headlined: Hotel capacity charts – don’t trust them

For years professional meeting planners have complained about the poor quality information hotels – and convention centres – provide about their property. Whether hoteliers know and ignore this or are deaf to the complaints, planners are not happy with the industry’s incomplete and inaccurate information. Room capacity, number of spaces, size and other physical amenities are static and should be easily verifiable and accurate. But they’re not.

Twenty-eight North American planners learning about the seaside opportunities and unique spaces in Halifax. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Hoteliers tell me that meetings represent 30 percent of their revenue. So, why are properties not paying more attention to the sector? In a recent interview with a planner, who has experience with MPI and PCMA, I said it seems as if hotels don’t listen to clients. The planner replied, “They don’t.”

The current LinkedIn discussion includes these comments:

From a planner: “Meeting space is priority #1 for my group. I’ve received some very strange proposals over the years, trying to squeeze me into the wrong space.”

A VP of a Texas-based management services company: “My rule of thumb is to take whatever the hotel

More meeting planners discover Canada’s birthplace, Charlottetown. (Allan Lynch Photo)

suggests as capacity and cut it by 25%. For some reasons, most hotels are completely incapable of measuring the dimensions of their rooms accurately.”

A Kansas planner: “…been in the business for 35+ years and it’s always been a challenge.”

Another planner: “ I recently looked at a hotel’s event space that was advertised as fitting 40 people….but they failed to mention that it is an L-shaped space, so nearly 1/3 of the attendees would be around the corner from the speaker & projector.”

The Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos relaunches after a devastating hurricane closed the property for a year. (Allan Lynch Photo)

A hotelier responded: “on the Hotel Sales side of things, our capacity charts are not intended for what you are looking for. They are not designed to be a stand alone tool. These charts that hotels produce are used as a point of reference but more importantly to have people engage in a conversation about the event.”

In response to the above an events manager wrote: “the hotel capacity charts are often used by meeting planners who are considering properties to send RFPs. If they are not inherently realistic, they are wasting time. We all respect the sales pressure to acquire new business, but ceiling height, low chandeliers, posts, cut-outs for air-wall storage and low hanging air wall soffits are real issues not properly disclosed in sales brochures or web sites.”

My response to the hotelier who says capacity charts are not intended for the way planners use

One of the meeting spaces in Halifax’s refurbished Lord Nelson Hotel. (Allan Lynch Photo)

them is to ask if there is any caveat on the capacity charts warning planners not to take these dimensions seriously? How does a planner know these aren’t accurate? And if they’re not to be used in the manner planners use them, why are they there?

The idea of capacity charts as a place from which to start a conversation is a passé concept illustrating the disconnect between seller and buyer. Planners today are really time-pressed. They’re often pulling together a client proposal from the road or in the evening or on a weekend. They don’t have time or the inclination to call a property. They specifically don’t want to engage in any conversation with anyone they can’t first qualify.

The Charlottetown Convention Centre’s main ballroom. (Allan Lynch Photo)

On the flip side, hoteliers are frustrated that the traditional sales channels have been interrupted by the use of automated third party RFPs. Hotel sales managers are frustrated that they can’t suggest a better date and don’t know the client. I suggest planners are being driven to these third parties by the volume of bad information produced by properties.

There could be a lot less wasted time if accurate and thoughtful information targeted to this 30 percent of business were produced by sellers.

Whether you’re an independent or chain flag, an off-site venue, convention centre or destination marketing organization, I can help. I have 25 years experience covering the world’s meeting and incentive sector. I have listened to planners speak about their frustrations with suppliers and about what they want and need to know. Contact me:  nscelt@hotmail.com

Demand growing for web audits

To date the web audit service has been used by 10 hotels and resorts in three provinces and the destination marketing agency for a city in a fourth province. No fee has been greater than $500.

Hoteliers and marketers see the value in this service. More specifics are available in the Anniversaries and Audits article and from the web audit tab above.

To have your website audited for how well it services the meetings and incentive market, contact: nscelt@hotmail.com. Put “web audit” in the subject line.

By allanlynch

Anniversaries and audits

 

In a year of significant anniversaries: Montreal’s 375th, Canada 150th, and  the 65th mit-coveryear of The Queen’s reign. I have my own small anniversary.

This year I begin my 25th year writing about the meeting and incentive industry. My first article, a summary of Maritime meeting venues and ideas, appeared in the September 1992 issue of Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine. Since then I have written over 300 articles for M&IT.

Twenty years ago I began contributing to The Meeting Professional published by Meeting Professionals International. I also contributed to One+, which was The Meeting Professional under a different name.

For the last 13 years I have covered Eastern Canada for Association News.

association-news-cover-1I’ve written over 500 articles about places, people, ideas and industry trends. I enjoy the industry’s creativity and inventiveness.

My research has had me crisscross North America, travel extensively in Europe, and venture as far as South Africa, Hong Kong, China and India. I’ve done over 1,200 site inspections of hotels, convention centres and off-site venues in 85 cities in 27 countries.

My work has appeared in: Meetings & Incentive Travel (Toronto), Meetings Incentives International (Toronto), Corporate Travel (Toronto), ignite (Toronto), Association News (Los Angeles), The Meeting Professional / One + (Dallas), Sports Travel (Los Angeles), Executive Traveler (US), Golf Event (US), Incentives & Meetings International (US), Motivation Strategies (US), Meetings and Conventions ((US) and Progress (Halifax). I have also provided custom content for VisitBritain, Atout France, Destination Halifax, Scottsdale, mpi-coverNewfoundland Tourism and Caesar’s Entertainment.

The interviews and travels with planners, partners and suppliers are supplemented by background fact-checking of websites.

It is astonishing that static details about a property or a venue are so often inconsistent, inaccurate and/or lacking sellable details. Planners and incentive house reps have long complained about this and my on-line research leads me to share their frustration.

For example, for back-to-back assignments in November/December 2015 I visited 128 websites belonging to hotels, destinations, convention centres and off-site venues. Only 11 had information I could confirm or find. Year-after-year these on-line problems persist.

executive-traveler-coverFor this research a destination’s marketing organization (DMO) supplied a capacity chart for the city’s major hotels (room count, meeting space summary). One 200-room hotel showed 0 meeting space. I knew that wasn’t right. I contacted the hotel. My contact confirmed that they had 2,700 sq. ft. of meeting space. I later found a meetings page for this property which said they had 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another web page listed capacity at 4,000 sq. ft., yet adding up the individual room capacities listed on their meeting room inventory showed 4,377 sq. ft. of meeting space. They variously are said to have five and seven meeting rooms. The following year, the same DMO’s capacity chart didn’t list this property because the destination still believes the hotel doesn’t have meeting space. And neither the hotel or marketing people notice!

Another property’s website says it has six meeting rooms and 9,000 sq. ft. of space. However, theirsports-travel-cover capacity chart lists seven rooms totaling 12,399 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another list says this property has 11,000 sq. ft. of space spread over five rooms. Web pages for a third city property show its meeting capacity ranges from 20,000, 21,631, 21,742, 22,000 to 28,000 sq. ft.!

These inconsistent numbers are only part of the problems with property, destination and supplier websites.

Meeting planners and incentive house reps constantly complain about the quality of information potential suppliers provide. It makes their work harder. Often planners are working in the evening, on a weekend or during a long layover to pull together a client proposal. They don’t have the opportunity to contact a property or destination to confirm facts. And, since they often only need one or two numbers, they don’t want to waste their time making the call and engaging in the usual niceties of a business conversation. Consequently, destinations and properties are dropped from consideration.

golf-how-to-guide-coverPlanners have said to me, “If you don’t know how big you are, what other details will you get wrong?”

The comic strip Pogo famously said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

Based on industry frustrations I have conducted web audits for hotels and suppliers to ensure their facts are uniform, accurate and presented in a meaningful way for clients.

The good news is that the fix doesn’t generally scottsdale-coverinvolve rebuilding a website, it’s about working with in-house tech experts and sales to hone the content. It is simple, quick and inexpensive. For first contact, write: nscelt@hotmail.com. Put “audit” in the subject line.

Pop up events: going in the box to be out-of-the-box

In recent years the events industry has rethought meetings technology, program elements, where and how groups meet to room design. Mirroring these changes is a society which has embraced a new style of creative collaboration among colleagues, active participation in micro-lending for new enterprises and social causes via crowdsourcing, championing the growth in gourmet food trucks as well as flash mobs and pop up events.

This container bar on the Halifax waterfront shows how stylish a pop up venue can be. (Allan Lynch Photo)

This container bar on the Halifax waterfront shows how stylish a pop up venue can be. (Allan Lynch Photo)

So, in the continuing quest for event hosts to appeal to a mobile, independently-minded attendee, could the next big innovation not merely be out-of-the-box thinking, but a reinvention of the box? Specifically, considering the potential role of shipping containers as actual pop up venues.

Shipping containers are in vogue as a quick, low-cost, study alternative to temporary and permanent facilities. For example, in London, containers have been rehabbed for housing for the homeless. Other places have created pop-up malls and office complexes. A British company, Snoozebox, provides pop-up hotels of up to 200 rooms for events across the UK and Europe. In Canada, permanent container hotels have been built in remote areas to provide instant accommodation for oil patch workers. And the summer of 2016 saw the launch of Area 506, a total pop up event in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Area 506 could be the harbinger of a wider trend. Or at least be an adaptable idea for destinations rich in under-utilized land, and weak in large built infrastructure.

“506” is the area code for the province of New Brunswick. Event chairman Ray Gracewood says, “In my past life I was involved with a locally made product. I came to the conclusion we didn’t really have an opportunity to celebrate our incredible, locally-made products. So basically we put our heads together as small committee and thought if we were to have an event in New Brunswick what would it look like? That’s how we came up with Area 506. Area 506 would be a celebration of all things New Brunswick and pride of place that we’ve bucketed into three groups: music, culture and goods.”

To accomplish this, Gracewood’s group of volunteers, with the backing of Destination Saint John, the city’s marketing department, organized a two-and-a-half day event in July. Ground Zero was a container village set up on Long Wharf on the city’s harbour front. Gracewood says, “I think the idea starts here. Where the idea evolves over time will be up to the city, the community and the businesses. The thinking long term is more of a question than a statement. But wouldn’t it be cool if we had a summer-long build of shipping containers that were essentially pop-up shops and hotels and other structures that make a village within a city?”

While the village was the focus, organizers didn’t turn their back on local businesses. They launched a Passport Program with nearby restaurants, shops and venues that encouraged village visitors to collect partner stamps, which were redeemable for rewards at the village.

The event utilized food trucks for a food court and borrowed 100 containers from local shipping firms to form, what Destination Saint John executive director Victoria Clark describes as “a steel fortress” which guided pedestrian traffic flow and provided a secure perimeter for the 30,000 people who attended this first-time event (the City of Saint John has a resident population of 65,000).

Because these were borrowed containers Clark says, “We didn’t alter these shipping containers in any way. So you could only get in and out of them on one narrow end, but people used them as they saw fit.” A painter and musician used one for a gallery/concert space, while some businesses set up retail shops inside.

Matt White of the Sussex Beard Oil Company is one of the out-of-box-in-the-container entrepreneurs who attended. White was just off a successful appearance on Dragon’s Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank) where his business plan attracted the support of two Dragons. He so quickly bought into the idea he didn’t plan what to do until he was on-site. “I hadn’t thought ahead, as usual. When I got there I opened up my container. I think I got a new container. There was no smell, the walls were fresh paint and I thought this was paradise. So I set my store up inside it. I had a barber with me” and for the two days he sold product and offered haircuts and male makeovers.

As an exhibitor White wholeheartedly embraced the container event idea. “I like different. It didn’t matter if I lost a finger I would have enjoyed myself. The concept gave what I call a dog whistle tilt to people as they came in. You know how when you blow a whistle a dog tilts their head? People do that when they see something new. I saw that a lot through the weekend. Everybody loved the idea.”

White already plans a return for 2017. He is such a fan that he is working on a secret project that sounds very much like he could travel the province with his own pop up shop/barbershop.

The pop-up event idea is already gaining momentum. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, Eric Stotts, a Boston-trained architect and partner in Skin + Bones Building Design, says, “I can’t disclose who it is, but we’re working with a government agency, planning a big trade show, to develop the model of five containers to be used for a week at a location here in Halifax.” Part of the discussions are on merits of a lease versus ownership scheme for the containers.

Stotts, who has experience rehabbing several containers into pop up bars and beer gardens, says, “They’re a joy to work with. There’s no lack of them, they’re extraordinarily malleable and the options are almost unlimited. Containers provide flexibility, adaptability and transportability and plug in nicely to a lot of under-utilized spaces of potential, like derelict sites. You can take a vacant lot that was an eyesore and in a month have converted it into a stellar public space.”

With the addition of solar panels exhibitors could have a strong, secure, mobile and environmentally friendly trade show booth.

A pop-up event village could be a game changer for many groups and destinations.

Dealing with legislative disaster

 

In Canada, the former Prime Minister Trudeau, father of the current prime minister, famously said, “The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

And now we find ourselves in a situation where legislators dabble in washroom usage. This may appeal to one small, vocal corner of their support, but it’s not good for business.

Here’s a link to a current update on the situation:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/12/21/north-carolina-lawmakers-gather-to-consider-repealing-bathroom-bill/?utm_term=.abdf808716e0&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1

Meeting planners and the hospitality sector, which is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world, are not helped by such intrusive legislation. Planners already live by the maxim: plan for the best, but expect the worst.

Traditionally, disruptors came from Mother Nature who visited hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and raging blizzards on business. Then came the disruption of terrorism.

Now a new disaster category has been created by politicians whose local laws conflict with the values and beliefs of non-partisan organizations and businesses.

Someone with first-hand experience is Dr. Barbara Risman. A professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Risman was president of the Virginia-based Southern Sociological Society (SSS) when she cancelled her 1,200-person meeting scheduled for 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Her group’s cancellation was in direct response to the North Carolina’s passage and signing

Under neutral washrooms at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver for the TEDx Talks.

Under neutral washrooms at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver for the TEDx Talks.

into law of HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill”. The bill passed on March 23, Risman send a note on the 24th and formal letter on the 25th. She says the SSS were able to act as swiftly as they did because, “We have faced this before. There was a discriminatory bill in the Louisiana legislature the year before.” It came before the legislature while the SSS were meeting in New Orleans. “That governor did not sign the bill. But when that came up, we as an organization, and the executive committee voted, not to meet in a state that passes discriminatory laws against LGBT people. So the moment HB2 passed in North Carolina I contacted the hotel. We had, because of our experiences with Louisiana’s almost law, put a discrimination clause in our contract with The Westin, which says we have the right to cancel without penalty if the state passes a law that discriminated against LGBT people or same-sex marriage. So I was ready to go.”

The Westin’s sales manager told The Charlotte Observer the cancellation was a $180,000 loss to the hotel.

Georgia, a state the SSS meets in every four years, had considered similar discriminatory legislation. The frustration for Risman is that “We are the Southern Sociological Society. That means we meet in the South. That’s where all these backlash laws are happening. So if it (legislation) is going to be a problem for anybody, it’s going to be a problem for groups that are Southerners.”

Legislators, who are normally deeply in the “pro business” column, seem oblivious to the real, measurable negative economic impact of their decisions. In addition to the professional groups who opt out of doing business in such states, sporting events have been moved out of state and private sector businesses cancelled announced expansions and moved their investments elsewhere.

Given the frequency and range of disruptors taking place the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) developed a Travel Risk Management Assessment Tool for the industry.

Monica Sanchez, GTBA’s Director of Research, says risk management “is a pretty broad term. When we ask about the travel management programs some have a very sophisticated program where they have a third party company manage the program. Others say they have some sort of program in place because they have policies or processes (but no one to manage it). We found that a good 20 percent don’t (have a plan) and they still send people out to travel and don’t really have a clear vision of risk management. That’s why our traveler’s program is for them.”

The GBTA’s assessment tools, says Sanchez, “go through everything from the risk assessment itself, risk mitigation, risk disclosure to how to communicate everything in the program, to data management for how data is gathered. So all in all there are 10 key performance areas that we’re gathering information about.”

The purpose of the tool is to pinpoint gaps in plans and procedures and guide planners to solutions. One thing the tool doesn’t do is rate destinations on the basis of risk. Sanchez says, “There’s no information or questions in the assessment that are specific to a region. What the assessment is going to do is identify the things they already have in place and gaps that they have. So when they have gaps there are a set of recommendations where we tell them maybe you don’t have x in place, you should contact this sort of person in order to find out what the next steps are. With those recommendations they can determine the risk there could be for a destination, but nowhere would we recommend or not recommend going to a destination.”

The tool also doesn’t differentiate between the type of disruption. Whether a natural disaster, terrorism, health concern or other, it’s about preparedness.

“I think the risks have always been there and sometimes they are more in evidence because obviously of the news and the social media,” says Colleen Gallagher, the GBTA’s Communications Director. “It’s not only terrorism, there is also other issues that we have to be aware of, like environmental issues to political instability in other regions. Our industry is a global industry. We’re not just sending travelers around the corner, but to places they may have never been. We’re sending someone across borders, so we should make sure where the travellers are, make sure we give them the right information so they don’t get into trouble, and if they do they know how to contact us.”

To understand the impact of these disruptions Roger Dow, CEO and President of the U.S. Travel Association, says, “We commissioned a study quite a while ago to look at what was the loss from something like Katrina. So Oxford Economics found it literally took New Orleans five years to recover from Katrina. And we found most of the times, if there is a big-scale disruption – a monstrous fire, flood, major hurricane, something like that – it’s 26 months to five years for recovery. Business doesn’t just snap right back. It has to do with several things. One is the infrastructure damage, but much more important is perceptual damage.”

The gulf oil spill was another prompt for the study. Dow says, “We were trying to demonstrate to BP that you just don’t have a hurricane Katrina and after the wind and rain stops the next week everything is back to normal. What ends up happening is people start changing their travel patterns. They go to different places for vacation” and business rotation is altered. People will remember the event, but not know of the recovery. “So any time you have a disaster, whether it’s political or nature, it takes a long time for the travel industry to come back.”

Beyond the immediate impact of events to local populations and places, Dow believes reputation damage or concern is fed and amplified by the proliferation of social media as well as the 24-hour news cycle. Events that were once local stories have become national and international stories that play on a type of continuous loop.

Dow’s advice for dealing with potential disaster is common sense. “The lesson is very simple: listen to the experts, rely on the data and be very balanced in your approach because again, the fear of it can create a panic that’s not founded. The lesson learned is communicate, communicate, communicate, facts, facts, facts, data, data, data.”

His bottom line: “Balance, communication and facts.”

And when the disaster is politically motivated, legislators must ask themselves if it is truly worth the dollar, job and reputational loss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questioning President Trump’s impact on travel and the meetings industry

In the movie Elizabeth, about the first Queen Elizabeth, not the current one, The Queen is facing war with France and Spain. It’s on the eve of the sailing of the Spanish Armada. The Queen says, “I dislike war. The outcome is so unpredictable.”

So it is with elections.

The new administration has the world’s travel trade in turmoil.

A Travelzoo poll done before Donald Trump’s win was announced found that 31% of Brits would reconsider travel to the US. 20% said they definitely would not go. The Travelzoo poll predicted an unstable 2017 for the US, but a good year for Canadian tourism. Cheapflights said that as the election campaign progressed they saw a decline in preference for the US as a destination and in the last week bookings declined 52%.

Cheapflights also said that overnight searches for one-way flights from the US to Canada were 133% more than a month ago.

On election night the website for Canadian immigration crashed under the weight of searches.

A Travelmole poll says 58% of UK travel professionals thought a Trump presidency would be bad for business. US travel professionals were slightly more optimistic, with just 52% thinking it would be bad.

In the week before the election, Euromonitor published a paper which said Trump’s promise to ban Muslim travel to the US could cost up to $71 billion a year and cost 132,000 jobs. They also said AirBnB and Expedia could be hurt, given their property listings and courting of business to and from Mexico and South America. The Euromonitor report also wondered about the impact of a Trump/Pence administration on the fast-growing female and gay markets. (In office Governor Pence has adhered to his fundamentalist beliefs to take anti-gay and anti-choice positions.)

In the spring of 2016 we saw how a string of discriminatory state laws negatively impacted the meetings sector. For example, when North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” which discriminated against LGBT people, a number of business and professional groups pulled their business from the state.

I wonder what impact a Trump presidency will have on AirBnB? Given that Trump is a hotelier, how open will his administration be to this type of competition? I realize he will be expected to put his business affairs in a blind trust, but will a Republican-dominated Congress ignore this type of business and not try to regulate it more? Will companies, which now allow their people to use AirBnB, feel comfortable continuing their corporate policy?

And what does this presidency mean to foreign groups? Obviously, some nationalities aren’t going to feel comfortable coming to the US for business. In 2011 Boston Economics determined that slow VISA approvals for delegates hoping to attend US-based trade shows were costing the US industry over $2.6 billion a year. That broke down to $1.5 billion in lost business-to-business trade; $540 million in lost registration fees and exhibition space spending; and $295 million in visitor spending. Reversing this lost business would translate into 43,000 new jobs and $750 million dollars in state and federal taxes.

The VISA process has improved, but will the new administration’s positions impact attendance by certain ethnic groups, gay delegates and their supporters?

The other question is how the new administration will impact sun destinations. Are US businesses going to feel comfortable hosting events in Mexico? Will Mexican businesses and representatives feel comfortable participating in events in the US? Could the new Washington, with it’s America-centric position, take a dim view towards those groups who don’t use a US-based destination for their event?

Then we turn to the Caribbean. The Obama Administration has been opening doors to Cuba. American Airlines have started flying there. Marriott has opened a Havana hotel and announced plans for others. Several cruise lines are negotiating to include it in their itineraries. If President Trump rolls back all of President Obama’s legacy, what does that do to the future of Cuba-US relations? That impacts not just Cuba, but the rest of the Caribbean as individuals and groups have to rethink reservations or future plans.

There’s a lot to consider about the impact of this administration on the travel and meetings sector.

 

Canadian volunteer 9/11 remembrance

“I saw the flight attendants in the galley crying. Then the pilot came on the intercom and said, ‘New York and Washington are under attack. All hell has broken loose, we’re going to Canada’.”

This is how a passenger on a Continental flight from London said she learned about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Two hours later this flight landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport

42 aircraft parked on the runway at Halifax Stansfield International Airport on 9/11. (Photo courtesy of HSIAA.)

42 aircraft parked on the runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on 9/11. (Photo courtesy of HSIAA.)

(YHZ) and was immediately surrounded by armed police with dogs. For the next nine hours passengers sat cut off from the world on the runway at a place they didn’t know. In this pre-digital era, mobile service to much of the Northeast was cut off by the collapse of the towers, leaving diverted travellers unable to access news or reach family or friends.

When North American airspace suddenly closed, 17 airports across Canada became the fallback destination for 255 US-bound flights and their 44,000 passengers and crew. That time of day is when most European flights are approaching North American airspace. The flights closest to North America landed at Charlottetown, Halifax, Gander, St. John’s, Saint John, Sydney and Moncton. Halifax received 42 aircraft, carrying 7,558 passengers and crew.
Early in the evening of September 11th, my then 77-year-old mother, who was a long-time Red Cross volunteer received a call asking her to help with Operation Grounded. I went with her to make sure she didn’t kill herself volunteering. That evening, we were part of a six-person team which drove across Nova Scotia from our homes in the Annapolis Valley to the Red Cross Citadel in Halifax. The building was pandemonium. The hallways were filled with people and boxes of office supplies and personal care items ready to rush and be rushed to wherever needed. Every desk seemed encircled by people, like dozens of mini-command centres. It was movement and voices and ringing telephones and hands waiving papers at whoever would snatch it and run. It was the type of the scenario I imagine took place when the stock market crashed in 1929.

About 10 pm our group was assigned to open the Dartmouth High School as a reception centre. We dashed over the MacDonald Bridge spanning Halifax Harbour and began our work. It was inspiring. It made us proud of our fellow Nova Scotians and the province. There was a need and everyone stepped up. A team from the phone company installed a phone bank so passengers could call anywhere in the world for free. The military arrived with hundreds of cots and quickly converted the gym into a large dorm. Caterers delivered hot, cold and kosher foods. Students came in to open up the computer lab and, working with custodians, move big screen TVs into the cafeteria so when diverted passengers arrived they could watch what had happened. Then residents began showing up demanding to take home stranded passengers. These stranded travellers hadn’t yet arrived, but Nova Scotians were ready. They told us they cleaned their guest rooms or pulled rec room sofa beds open, and/or sent the kids to stay with neighbours, friends or grandparents so they had room for these strangers. Everyone felt it was important that these uninvited guests knew they had a friend.

When the diverted passengers began to arrive our first task was to process them. We had half a dozen tables lined up on the gym’s stage. Passengers filed on stage, not to receive a graduation certificate, but to provide the International Red Cross with basic information: name, address, nationality, any medical conditions, travel details (flight number, departure point, destination) and permission to give their details to anyone searching for them. Somewhere, someone or some group were compiling all this information so frantic family, friends and colleagues around the world could learn the fate of their loved ones.

In the cafeteria I saw one 50-something New Yorker tightly gripping her sides as she rocked back and forth, staring at the TV. She couldn’t stop watching the planes fly into the towers. Eventually we learned she lived five blocks from the Twin Towers and what was on television was basically the view from her living room window.

She was so traumatized by these images she couldn’t be alone. We discretely arranged for another woman to accompany this lady to the washroom and stay at her side.

Members of the clergy – ministers, priests, a rabbi – also came by, walking the walk of the basic tenant of all faiths, ‘do unto others …’

That first night none of us knew anything, we assumed that the next morning the visitors would be back on their planes, continuing their journey. Volunteers were told passengers had to be on-site for an 8:30 am situation update. This deadline discouraged passengers from taking private accommodations too far away.

Just before dawn our group of volunteers handed over the school and visitors to another Red Cross team and returned to the Valley. We arrived home at 6:30 am. At 8:30 am, we learned no one was flying that day and were asked to go to Camp Aldershot, a local militia base pressed into service as a reception centre for 1,500 diverted travellers.

My mother, who was an extraordinarily organized person, worked the office, fielding incoming calls from around the world, coordinating volunteers and keeping in touch with the Red Cross command centre, managing appointments for those with medical issues and dealing with other requests from the diverted. Medical teams were on-site, here and all host communities, to check passengers. Those who didn’t have their meds were provided with free prescriptions. Some were transferred to hospital for more detailed diagnostic tests and treatment, and their doctors informed.

Volunteer firefighters came to the camp offering tours of the area. Local women delivered food, offered laundry services and took people shopping. I overheard one young woman telling a new-found friend among her fellow passengers, “This woman, a complete stranger, took me shopping for underwear!” “Nooooo!” said her suddenly jealous friend. “YES! Can you imagine some stranger at home taking you shopping for panties!?!” “You are so lucky.”

One who wasn’t so lucky was the young mother who suffered a miscarriage due to the stress.

It was only when I saw Michael Moore’s movie, 9/11, I learned people were told not to remove anything larger than a purse from an aircraft. On the ground at the time, volunteers didn’t know this. We didn’t know that officials were checking all luggage on all flights or that the reason it took up to 14 hours to deplane passengers was because every flight manifest had to be checked for more terrorists. Consequently, like all the host communities and reception centres, we had thousands of people without basics like toothbrush, toothpaste and comb.

In response to these needs CFB Greenwood sent truckloads of towels and linens to Aldershot. Local stores, like Sobeys, Lawton’s, Zellers and many small independents donated towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant and personal care items. My role at the school and camp was to act as a type of quartermaster, dispensing these items to our guests. I learned there is a weird practically to disaster. And that people have greater patience and empathy if they can shower and brush their teeth.

One woman housed at Aldershot told me she woke up that first night to find a man crawling across the floor of her room. He immediately identified himself as a soldier, apologized for startling her and explained she had been given his bed. He was just reaching for his wallet in the nightstand.

On the second and third days a couple of people got a tad ‘shirty’. Mostly in response to stress and having to share things like shampoo and conditioner. An American businessman on a one-day business trip flying from his base in London to New York was surprised that we were all volunteers and that all the personal items, food and entertainment was donated. He said, “You should put up a sign asking for donations. Let them know you’re volunteers, that this is donated stuff. They think the airlines or government are paying for this. They’re not used to kindness of this scale.” Whether or not they were used to it, that’s what they got. We were happy to be useful.

 

In a way, it was like a delayed returning of the favour for the way Boston and the people of Massachusetts came to our aid after the December 6, 1917 Halifax Explosion.

 

9/11 remembrance

I have posted a short video of a 9/11 remembrance service held in Appleton, Newfoundland, in 2010. I like that the people of Appleton, which hosted some of the travellers diverted to Canada that day, continue to remember. They hold an annual event even when there is no national and international media attention on them.

To see part of the service and read a few more details click on:

https://allanlynch.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/911-remembrance/

 

 

By allanlynch

Successful storytelling starts here

“Storytelling” is the new vogue. We have progressed from “native advertising” (a description I thought slightly racist) and “sponsored content” to “storytelling”.

Okay, but what if you’re not a storyteller? What if you’re telling the wrong story? What if you’re overlooking cool stories within your organization? Not everyone has a story (or news) sense or understands how to present what is important in a lively, compelling way. For some organizations they are happy just to have something on-line and overlook the potential for maximizing their message.

For example, I recently participated in a familiarization trip for meetings professionals. This was an opportunity for a destination to showcase itself, its meeting and event infrastructure, and introduce local professionals and partners to clients from across North America.

One of the partner websites has a page directed to meeting professionals. Curiously, the lead focus is their “second largest ballroom”.

Their second largest ballroom is an attractive space, but I didn’t understand why a supplier would attempt to start a conversation with their second best asset. A member of the sales team explained that it was the city’s most popular ballroom, which is why they lead with it. Bingo!

That makes sense, but not the way it is presented to the world. The website should include the story the sales rep told me about its popularity. That’s where the storytelling starts. You need a professional storyteller to draw out the information and present it in the strongest possible way to stand out in a world of competitive storytelling.

Storytelling is part of the sales function. It shouldn’t be left to the technology team to handle. Their forte is delivering your story to all the places and platforms people congregate in in the digital world. They know their business. They don’t necessarily know yours. Too often busy executives hand sketchy ideas and details to their webmasters to install on-line. Unfortunately, the webmaster doesn’t know which ideas, facts, details and stories are the important ones for your clients. So what is presented to the world, in reality, satisfies only an internal audience and fails to address client needs.

A professional storyteller can solve those challenges and set you up for successfully servicing your clients. Destination Doctor helps you tell stories that sell.

By allanlynch