industry need to be prepared for dramatic
The protocols for emergencies are quite
similar, regardless of the nature of the crisis, he said.
“Keeping calm, keeping people feeling
safe, identifying areas of need, coordinating with governments and others in hospitality and staying organized is key,” he said.
“There are very
few places in
the world where
there’s no potential for natural disasters.
Crises are going to happen, and there
might be significant monetary impact
short term, but doing what’s necessary and
doing it right pays off in the long term.”
Advani said he believes that planning for
the long term in the Caribbean, beginning
today, is crucial to easing future threats.
“In the next five to 10 years, we must
have an agenda that addresses the need to
reconstruct to a higher code, particularly
in settlements where our workers live.”
Advani has started a hotel school on
the property for his
employees, and he
plans to organize “a
proper university, a
tion” in Turks and
Caicos. But he also
observed that a cri-
sis can strengthen survivors in a way that
no training program can.
“We saw incredible examples of people
coming together,” he said. “Out of something so heart-wrenching came something
so heart-warming. It resets values.”
Email Arnie Weissmann at aweissmann
@ travelweekly.com and follow him on
Twitter at twitter.com/awtravelweekly.
He was No. 2 at the Ritz-Carlton New
York, Battery Park in lower Manhattan,
just a few blocks from the World Trade
Center, preparing for an opening scheduled for Oct. 9, 2001. Everything changed
“We were in the preopening phase.
We had 80 employees, with another 120
scheduled to come in the next day,” he
told me. “We were having our morning
meeting when the chief engineer said, ‘You
need to come and see this.’ The first plane
had already hit, and we watched as the
second came in. You could feel the heat
of the explosion. We were in shock. Your
mind couldn’t process that this was real.”
But his instinct was to immediately
make sure his employees were accounted
for and to get them out of the area as
quickly as possible. The following
few months were a hard lesson
in assessing an unprecedent-
ed situation, stabilizing op-
erations and reassuring staff
while moving as quickly as
possible to open (the new
date: Jan. 18, 2002).
All the while, he was dealing with his own disrupted
personal life; his apartment was
one block from the twin
A few years
found himself in the role of hotel manager
of the flagship Raffles Hotel in his home-
town, Singapore. It was a dream assign-
ment, but it turned nightmarish shortly
after his arrival when fear of the bird flu
scared visitors away from the region and
his occupancy rate plunged into single
After working to stabilize the situation,
Advani moved in 2004 to be principal
at Grace Bay Resorts in Turks and Caicos. There, he has managed the company
through the financial meltdown of 2008,
which hit the luxury sector of hospitality hardest. He faced Zika, an incident of
norovirus and now Irma.
As the hurricane approached, he took
the threat of the storm seriously.
“You put up your sandbags,” he said.
“You establish a communications plan
among other properties and govern-
ment. You make sure you’re well
supplied. You watch the news. You
sort out who needs to stay on prop-
erty. You work with the airlines
to help guests who want to leave
before the storm hits. We had 100
guests with us,
and about 20
didn’t get off
the island be-
fore Irma hit; some
couldn’t get a
felt comfortable staying.”
Grace Bay itself was set up as the re-
gional command center.
The southern islands of the Caicos were
hit the hardest; on Providenciales, in the
northwest where Grace Bay is located, Advani said communications went down for
a period, but ultimately most of the damage to the property was cosmetic. The island government
had required hotels to adhere to
Miami-Dade County building codes. Of
greater concern was damage done to staff’s
homes in older settlements. In many cases,
the storm left residences uninhabitable.
“Those who didn’t have a home, or if
the roof was leaking, we found them accommodations,” Advani said. “We fixed
their roofs so the government could focus
on those less fortunate. The total cost related to staff, post-storm, was half a million dollars (the hotel has 500 employees). But they were coming to work, and
they saw we had a commitment to them.
Other hoteliers did
the same thing. One
of them converted a
church into tempo-
reopened the last
weekend in Septem-
ber, three weeks after Irma hit.
Terrorism, epidemics, financial crises,
natural disasters — there was no coursework covering these topics when Advani
attended hotel management school.
He and I met for breakfast on the morning that the world learned of the horrific
shooting in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Shocks like that, he said, are part of a “new
normal” dynamic, and those in the travel
Leader of luxe, master of disaster
“We take for granted the most basic things: water and power.” The speaker, Nikheel Advani, ex-Ritz-Carlton, ex-Raffles, current president of the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association and COO and principal of Grace Bay Resorts, has
acquired a double expertise in his career: managing luxury hotels and
coping with disaster.
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FROM THE WINDOW SEAT
Editor in Chief
Terrorism, epidemics, financial
crises, natural disasters. There
was no coursework on these top-
ics in hotel management school.