Marriott Had 200+ Empty Spots on a Boat But Refused to Help Non-Guests Escape Hurricane

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.

Marriott St. Thomas, Credit: Marriott

The US Coast Guard, knowing the boat was on its way, instructed others looking to get off of St. Thomas to meet the boat on its dock.

“Once we got to the docks and learned that it was for, Marriott guests only, they told us that we could get in a different line and wait — so we got the impression that we would, if there was room, they would let us on,” Terry said.

However Marriott wouldn’t let these people on the boat. They reportedly had room for a couple hundred people beyond their own guests on the 600 person boat, but refused transport to 30 or more people looking for help off the island.

A woman desperate to be off the island took video as the boat turned off its lights trying to disperse the crowd after Marriott’s own guests were onboard.

“This was a decision of Marriott who did not let us get on this boat so we could get on flights home.

“Instead we have to ride out Hurricane Jose when we just went through Hurricane Irma a few days ago.

“We don’t have food or water, we are stranded.”

In a statement Marriott said more or less ‘yeah, we did 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.”

Claiming that the ferry couldn’t take non-guests because of a ‘tight window’ to safely depart is absurd because everyone was on the dock ready to go. (Update: and no Marriott’s statement doesn’t claim that their guests were permitted to depart while others had passport issues going from the US Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico.) In fact the time spent shooing these people away likely took as much time as rescuing them would have. Saying they ‘weren’t able to’ help non-guests simply does not appear to be true. They chose not to. Marriott should either own that or apologize for it.

People left behind claimed the boat “called the CEO and he said they didn’t want the liability” although it’s highly unlikely the decision was made at that level.

And in fairness the woman who took the video “eventually found safe passage on a private evacuation boat to Puerto Rico.”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Unpopular take: the free market’s a libertarian bitch. Want a boat? Buy one, sunshine….or next time stay at a Marriott.

    Good on Marriott for upholding the libertarian ideal!

  2. Save your outrage for something else. You just don’t know al the facts. Oh, and definitely pay attention to grammar. You always dilute the influence of your posts with horrendously poor spelling and grammar

  3. I think Liability should be the last concern for anybody at this stage of the game. Whoever made the call at Marriott is either a coward or just a bad human being.

  4. What else do you want Marriott to give them Gary? Free upgrades, free points, free airline transfers? They have no obligation to put anyone on their boats—-maybe next time you want Marriott in Greece, Spain and Italy to put illegal economic hardship monsters/invaders from Africa on their boats.

    Safety is the responsibility of the government of Saint Thomas. Marriott’s responsibility is the safety of their paid patrons, not have criminals board boats to rob them, rape the women, throw kids overboard.

    I really hope Marriott refuses you entry into their hotels for writing an article like this when 1) you don’t know all the facts, and 2) you breached their contract as a member in their loyalty program by writing a story as if, as a business, Marriott committed murder, you fat twerp.

    Lately without frequent flier mile “hacks”, Gary has become the click-bate transgender of horror stories, credit card sign-ups, airline fights, and travel anger management.

  5. Hard to say who is right or wrong.. but when you do not patronize them how can you expect them to be responsible for your safety. It’s like getting getting a premium credit card. If you do not have it how can you use their service? It’s inhumane but in theory I can not fault them on it.. How come Marriott have to be faulted for it when they did rescue their customers? I actually commend them for it. It’s like countries watching out for their own citizens, can you blame them if they can not rescue another country’s people? Why was the other hotels not supply a ship for their customers? I believe it’s not right but I also believe it was not wrong. I applaud Marriott for thinking of their customers first, so next time when you book a hotel remember you get what you paid for….

  6. Absolutely disgusting behaviour. Basic humanity would imply that you take as many people as you can. Shameful.

  7. That’s pretty disappointing how this situation was handled. What’s your take on the cruise ships that dropped all their passengers in port in Miami with no way to leave while they redirected their empty ships to safer waters? At the time that was the anticipated track of Irma, I can’t help but wonder why they would drop their human cargo in harms way while protecting their property. Everyone needs a passport to be on a cruise, couldn’t they have been taken out of harms way to whatever port the ships sought refuge in, instead of being dropped in what was at the time the direct path of the storm?

  8. This isn’t about politics out free market. This was an emergency humanitarian situation. Maybe there was a legitimate reason Marriott left people behind (they should just say what it was, if there was a real reason). Regardless of reason, this is a very bad look for Marriott.

  9. You chose to travel during hurricane season to the Caribbean.
    I am unclear as to why someone else is then responsible for you?
    We have major warnings of each storm well before it is coming.
    Why did you travel anyway?
    Why is it Marriott’s responsibility?
    Sadly, the way liability is these days, if there had been an accident, Marriott would have then been in trouble.

  10. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I’ll go out on a limb to say this: Why SHOULD Marriott let people who aren’t guests of the hotel? They have no idea who they are, they could be fine folks or they could be criminals as stated. In my opinion, they didn’t even have the responsibility to provide passage out of there, it was AWESOME of them to do this much for their guests and the fact that they didn’t choose to do it for non-guests doesn’t make them bad people. Where are these other people staying at? Why isn’t THEIR HOTEL providing passage for them? With the litigious society we live in, if someone boarded the boat, broke a leg getting on it, they’d have sued Marriott for it. From a business standpoint, I wouldn’t have allowed it either.
    Why not do this story from the OTHER point of view? How about giving Marriott a HUGE PAT ON THE BACK for making arrangements for their guests by chartering a boat and getting them out of harms way? Again, in my opinion, it IS NOT my hotel’s responsibility to get me out of harms way if a hurricane or other natural event occurs, it is my own responsibility to get myself out of there.
    Way to go Marriott for taking care of their guests! I’ve got a two week stay coming up and this makes me feel better that I booked it at a Marriott property.

  11. The Americans have only themselves to blame for this. If God forbids that boat sank, the lawyers in the US would have made sure Marriott declare bankruptcy.

    There are side effects of having a law system where people can sue as a hobby.

  12. Monster mania- so I guess all islanders are rapist and criminals. I bet some of your best friends where marching with the neo nazis in Charlottesville.

  13. @penny, Monster Mania, Jason
    Human garbage like you, who should not be taking oxygen in this planet, are the reason american’s are loathed
    You write behind your screen in order to compensate for your own misery and you spew out all the shit that makes you feel good about your own shortcomings…
    If you were to die today, the world would be a better place, as simple as that

  14. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

    CEO Marriott

  15. As a frequent Marriott guest, I applaud them trying to assist their own customers. Where were the other travelers hotel? Why did they not help them? The previous posters were spot on. If there was a problem you better believe Marriott would be sued.

  16. Would the captain of the Marriott vessel taken the passengers he stranded had they signed a statement freeing Marriott of any and all liability that might be otherwise incurred during passage? Probably not. Neither he nor the Marriott official he contacted could think that far.

    Pity the folk left on the dock were not already in small boats at sea. Had the Marriott vessel passed close enough to rescue them, would the law of the sea mandated that the Marriott vessel take them aboard? If so, what would have happened to the captain had he refused to rescue them?

  17. OH my god. What is wrong with literally every commenter on this thread? Stop your disingenuous false equivalencies. These people weren’t asking for free rooms or upgrades or points or any of that other first world sh*t that we’re all so obsessed with on blogs like this. These people wanted to not die during a hurricane, and there was plenty of empty room on the boat. It would have cost Marriott $0.00 to put these people on the boat (and generate plenty of goodwill, for that matter). Of course Marriott had no actual “obligation” to put these people on the boat, except for the one where these are human beings who are in danger. “They should buy their own boat” so basically poor people deserve to die during natural catastrophes? When you’re so much of a free market “libertarian” (your word, not mine) that you’d rather people die from a hurricane than take seats that would otherwise have gone empty, you need to reconsider your moral positions and go find some human decency.

  18. Good points on both sides of this article’s comments (particularly with respect to human decency vs. security of existing guests and personnel).

    I think as a microcosm of the disaster/armageddon/zombie apocalypse variety these are types of hard choices that don’t really have a “win-win” outcome.

  19. The horrors in life, like what Irma did to STX, are real life tests of basic morals and humanity. Marriott failed both tests. I am curious what the boat captain thought. Would he have stopped to pick people off a sinking boat or does the inconvenience of Marriott’s customers over ride the morality and laws of the sea?
    Were the passengers happy 200 people were denied access to their boat during this emergency situation or are they ashamed?
    I agree with some of the comments above, we do not have all the information. Marriott please explain why you denied to allow 200 human beings access to your evacuation vessel?
    Just one story for the Captain and Marriott’s management to consider, “In Texas the Cajun Navy a fleet of private boat owners did everything they could to rescue strangers from Houston’s flood waters.” They were heroes. What do we call the boat captain and Marriott management that stranded 200 humans on St. Thomas?”
    Gary sorry you have to suffer the slings and arrows of frustrated english teachers and self identified snobs. This is an important story and thanks for your time and effort. I hope in a corporate board room at Marriott’s home office men and women of intelligence and dignity are writing an apology to the people of St. Thomas and the souls they left standing on that hurricane ravaged dock.

  20. @Doug- I stand by my position, as a business owner, I can totally see their point. All too often companies are sued for ridiculous crap and unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Take the Houston flooding for example….there were tons of folks from surrounding states who went down their with their expensive boats to “help the victims” out of the flooded areas and I myself nearly wept at the goodwill shared. But what wasn’t shown on CNN and what was downplayed was the instances where those volunteers had guns pulled on them, had their cash/wallets and boats STOLEN from them! Not knowing the area, the people, the circumstances (how far out the storm was, what other help was available, etc) I cannot blame the crew for NOT taking them. What if those “victims” then attacked the crew/passengers would Marriott be a savior or a victim? Where does it stop? How many do you take? Too many variables and again, it doesn’t make me human garbage, it makes me level headed. Who the hell are you to get on your friggin’ high horse and judge me anyway, GFY!

  21. @penny
    I still stand by my comments
    you should commit suicide as you do not contribute anything to society…
    even if a ridiculously small number of incidents happened, doesn’t justify leaving people stranded
    If your mother was on the dock you would trash marriott for not taking her, although would have been suitable punishment for bringing such a POS like you to the world

  22. Libertarians should not have an issue with leaving people stranded. Libertarian ideals allows them complete free reign of who they sell tickets to and who they do not let on to their boat. Free market pressure tells us that a charter/fishing trolley boat that would cost tens of thousands of dollars to ride off the island right should be showing up right? This is the hill Libertarians seem to want to die on.

  23. Bravo, Doug

    The reactions are a litmus test of who should be culled and who should be given the privilege of continuing our species

  24. @Penny A big part of being a human being, is being human. I’m sure you would agree with the Titanic’s handling of lifeboats, too. Destroyed island, no food and water, another hurricane coming. There is only ONE thing that can be done. And from a PR point of view, not only do you take 200 extra people (not just the 30), but you send the f’ing boat back to pick up another 600. WTF?

    Karma to you.

  25. @penny bravo…you are not heartless, and the people that deemed you heartless are the ones that wants things for nothing. They are the ones that do not protect them self and risk everything then want people to feel SORRY for them. If it was my mother, I would advise her not to go and forgo the trip. All the people that went are risking everything including their life, and then have the nerve to blame others.. you know what you people can say I,am heartless and i do not care. It’s okay if people go to other hotels and another hotel rescue their own customers they are faulted for it. It’s idiotic. These people did not blame the hotel they are staying in. Heartless you know what, you should’ve thought about it when you went on that trip and book in the cheap hotel. Liability and goodwill where done by Marriott, and not by the other hotel.. BRAVO Marriott. They did what no other hotels did in that area. Their customers come first. Next time I book it will be a Marriott because it shows me that I will go to a chain with a customer first motto.

  26. No one is saying Marriott is totally responsible for people that aren’t guests of their hotel. However, as a company you don’t get to say we look out for the greater community and them leave a bunch of them behind during a hurricane…and less than 40 people at that. I’d have more respect for them if they said, yup we actually don’t really care that much unless we’re getting your money. At least that’s way more honest than walking the middle line with a bunch of public relations speak. I don’t believe for a second that anyone who made that decision was sad about it so take that BS somewhere else.

  27. Toby and Penny, you clearly pride yourselves on your analytical way of viewing the world. Careful analysis and smart self preservation has for many years been the foundation for cowards. There is a time for your type of analysis and when your self centered attitude is the right decision. The life threatening circumstance of a hurricane is not that time.

    Not letting every one on that boat that could be evacuated to safety that night was, I believe, an act of self centered cowards. I understand that maybe you could live with leaving those human being behind on that hurricane ravaged island because they “might be evil”. I do not have your fear and I would have been haunted till the day I died if I left anyone I could help in that dire circumstance. In this situation I not only have to agree with Peter but wonder why an act of self indulgent malice by Marriott and it’s employees that harmed a section of humanity is important enough to you to call people who would work to help their fellow man “idiotic”. Are you PR people for Marriott? Have you been so drained by the hardship of running a business the you have changed inside?
    The best way to understand the problem set forth in Marriott’s dilemma is to put yourself in the shoes of the people on that dock. How would you feel if it was your brother or son or mother on that dock watching the boat to their safety sail away.
    If I were the CEO or Marriott I would pray this story never hits the national media and just in case it does hit the national media I would be apologizing profusely to anyone that would listen, right now just to cover my “A”
    In closing, for the benefit of that CEO I will say that there are dozens of good Motel chains and I will live the rest of my life not doing business with Marriott unless Marriott shows some form of remorse for their self centered behavior. If I feel that way how many other people will be as outraged by the abandoning of those people as I am.

  28. Ummm and your point? Why are people blaming Marriott? You have people that stays at other hotels.. where are their morals? Think before you people crucify anybody. So Marriott was supposed to be responsible for the other peoples there too. So when these people book the hotel did they ever think that Marriott was a better choice. NO I AM NOT A MARRIOTT PR , but why lay blame on a company that did right for their customers when other hotels did not. DO NOT TELL ME THAT THEY HAVE ROOM ON THE SHIP. How come the other hotels did not worry about their own customers. You people are self centered. Who cares if they get sued, worry about and pointing fingers is what you people are good at.. How many of you here will even give up your place if you are on the MARRIOTT SHIP. NONE so stop thinking you people are saints because none of you are.. MARRIOTT DID THE RIGHT THING. BLAME the other,hotels that did NOTHING. think before you talk. Lay blame on a company that did the right thing to its customer is idiotic…

  29. @toby
    Clearly ( from your response and your inability to put a coherent sentence with the right grammar) you are not comprehending the story…
    You need to wait for the next bus, you can’t come with us….

  30. Save your outrage for something else. You just don’t know al the facts. Oh, and definitely pay attention to grammar. You always dilute the influence of your posts with horrendously poor spelling and grammar

  31. Gary, you have some truly horrible, selfish people among your readership. I am beginning to see how the supremo of them all, Trump, was elected. I would like to see their white-hot outrage at being left on the pier if they were not paid-up guests of whatever resort rescue boat refused them boarding. Would they be there waving their Triple Platinum Diamond Marriott/Hilton/Starwood/Hyatt cards to show how deserving and entitled they were (not)?
    And some Americans still wonder why they are despised, or at least strongly disliked, the world over!

  32. You people are funny, worry about grammar. Now I know why this country is falling apart. Realty stinks. So just worry about grammar. Okay..KEEP up the good work like the big three US AIRLINES. GRAMME, LOL.

  33. Aside from the pure entertainment value of reading these posts, there’s a dismissal of
    the legal issues involved in transporting individuals who were not listed on the passenger manifest of a ferry CHARTED by Marriott, traveling from USVI to PR. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written regarding the duties of contracted carriage by sea, although none as riveting as the above posts.

  34. In a situation like that, where people lives are in danger. It should never be about liability! It should be about the humanity. The ship should have been filled past capacity. Thank GOD, those people was not harmed. Marriott, could have been seen as an Hero, But now I view them as a Zero. Marriott would have been protected with the following law. Good Samaritan laws offer legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are, or who they believe to be, injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. If you got on that ship, knowing that there were others people lives being placed in great danger because of money decision and now you are prising that Marriott saved you! Shame on you! It’s a sad state of affairs when we start to pick and choose who will be saved and who we will allow to parish. (Grammar check me all you like, I give a Flying Fickle)

  35. I was there. Marriott also moved employees, their families and pets into the buildings. Getting tourists out provided safe dwellings, water food and electricity for locals who lost their homes to damage.

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