Marriott had a boat evacuate guests from the Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort on St. Thomas after Irma had passed and in advance of Hurricane Jose. By all accounts they did a great job for their guests.
Reportedly though the US Coast Guard told other American tourists looking to get off the island to hitch a ride on Marriott’s boat charter. They knew there were plenty of extra seats.
But those people weren’t allowed to board. And they blamed Marriott. Although as I noted they weren’t stuck riding out another storm, and they were evacuated — by a cruise ship company.
Marriott St. Thomas, Credit: Marriott
The people refused transport blamed the highest levels of Marriott, indeed claiming the decision to leave them behind was made by Marriott’s CEO.
- From the start I said there’s no way the decision to leave beyond stranded people, albeit not Marriott guests, was made by Marriott’s CEO.
- I’m certain Arne Sorenson wasn’t aware of the people trying to get on Marriott’s chartered boat until after the fact. It wouldn’t have made it to his level, and it seems unlikely that the modest efforts at helping would have been the call he’d make. But it seems likely that someone did seem to screw up.
Indeed, it was Marriott’s initial response sounded both at fault and cavalier about it.
There were a number of additional people gathered at the dock who were not our guests who also expressed a desire to leave St. Thomas. We very much wanted to assist these other travelers to Puerto Rico, however, the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization to board additional passengers.
With Hurricane Jose on a path to St. Thomas, the ferry had a tight window to pick up passengers and safely depart.
As a company, Marriott places a priority on the safety and security of our guests, but we also have a long tradition of looking out for the greater community. In this case, we weren’t able to help and as grateful as we are that we were able to transport our guests, we are saddened that we were not able to do the same for more people. We continue to work with local authorities in St. Thomas to help support the relief efforts there.”
Saying in effect we were in a hurry and the use of the third person meant to imply they were helpless to do more (“the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization”) is reminiscent of virtually every government non-apology ever made (“mistakes were made” “just following orders”).
Several folks left a story in the comments of my original post and shared with me on Facebook the purported ‘inside story of Marriott’s high seas rescue’ of guests stranded on St. Thomas.
What this is is Marriott’s ‘official story’ version 2. Indeed, Marriott has sent the piece around broadly inside the company. Here’s what Marriott’s President of the Caribbean and Latin America has to say about the incident.
We did everything we could to help, ultimately to no avail. Approximately 35 people who were not Marriott guests, and therefore whose names were not on the detailed manifest required by the local authorities, arrived at the dock gates wanting passage off the island.
…The security personnel employed by the dock company would not—and we asked them repeatedly–allow them through the port gates and boarding area, because they were not on the manifest we prepared in advance, as a requirement for the boat to depart for international waters.
The general managers who run our hotels on St. Thomas tried to work with dock personnel to allow them to get on the ship—we certainly had room aboard, which makes this both frustrating and disheartening.
Marriott’s version two of the story has definite elements of truth to it, even if also sounds like less than the full story.
- I’m sure they were told “you can’t take people who aren’t on the manifest” but Marriott isn’t sharing what measures if any they tried to take to amend the ship’s manifest.
- And they aren’t sharing what they did to try to escalate matters with authorities, especially considering that the U.S. Coast Guard reportedly told these people to meet the inbound ship.
Someone screwed up here. Probably plenty of people. I’ve made mistakes and wrong bets at my job. Fortunately they’ve never been in extreme emergencies, with lives potentially on the line. Adrenalin is running high. It’s difficult to reach busy people in the Caribbean during a major disaster on the weekend. People made judgment calls.
Did a bureaucrat say “you can’t just have people board a boat”? I’m sure. But does “we asked the dock company if these people could board” exhaust Marriott’s obligation? Or should they have spoken to supervisors, government officials?
I don’t think Marriott’s obligation was endless, but the shrugging of shoulders ‘we tried’ along with patting themselves on the back for taking care of their customers is a bit much although the preparations they made for their customers would otherwise have been a fantastic story.
This would have been a total non-story if the first response from Marriott had been,
- In our hurry to evacuate guests over the weekend during an emergency the folks on the ground didn’t do enough to track down the people who would have been able to give authorization to take on other passengers. We are deeply regretful for that and will put procedures in place to do better in the future.
Instead the response — especially the initial response from Marriott corporate communications — of ‘we were in too much of a hurry to help’ and ‘hey we would have but we were told no’ deserves criticism in my view.