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Sunday, October 19, 2014         

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Waikiki hotels prepare for storms

By Andrew Gomes

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Waikiki hotels that house the majority of vacationers visiting Hawaii are well practiced in preparing for hurricanes. Now, it's the real deal.

At one of the state's major lodging chains, Outrigger Enterprises, every one of its hotels in Waikiki is equipped to generate its own power using diesel generators for two or three days. Furniture is being removed from lanais and will be secured at pool areas. Sandbags are being piled to shore up against possible storm surges along the oceanfront.

"The managers are really, really comfortable handling this situation," said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services at Outrigger, which has about 10,000 guests staying at its 14 hotels in Waikiki.

At Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is has close to 7,200 guests in its seven towers all clustered together, workers are making similar preparations that include trimming trees and charging up satellite phones.

There's also plenty of food and water. And later today, the water level in Hilton's pool will be reduced by about half to guard against water blowing into parts of the hotel that are supposed to stay dry.

Even the water level in Hilton's lagoon is being reduced, according to Jerry Gibson, an area vice president of Hilton covering Hawaii.

"Everybody is very well prepared," he said. "We've gone over the drill many times."

Waikiki is a dense base for Hawaii's tourist population, which on Oahu averages about 95,000 people on a typical day. Hurricane Iselle is expected to weaken Thursday and bring tropical storm conditions to the island late Thursday and Friday.

Gibson and Wallace said communication with guests is the most important issue in situations where storms pose potential danger to guests, employees and hotel property.

"It's all about communication," Wallace said. "You have to keep the lines of communication clear and open."

The hotels pass storm updates along to guests in a variety of ways, including TV channels in rooms and lobbies, on hotel web pages and via Twitter and Facebook. Hilton also has a phone hotline that guests can call.

Because the storm is disrupting travel plans for some guests, cancellation fees are generally being waived and accommodations are being provided for guests who can't depart as planned.

Wallace said Outrigger is offering room stay extensions at discounted prices typically available to only family and friends of hotel employees. "It's the lowest rate we ever offer, and we'll make it available to guests who can't get out (as scheduled)," he said.

Providing rooms could be a bit chaotic with some guests not being able to depart because of airline flight cancellations, though demand for space is expected to be offset to a degree by arriving guests who can't get to Hawaii because of flight delays. In no instance, however, will guests be forced to leave with no place to go.

At Hilton, Gibson said cots will be set up in the ballroom if necessary. "Anybody that's here is going to be able to stay," he said.






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