To our valued guests, employees, and Walton County community,
At the end of March, our team made the decision to temporarily close Howard Hospitality hotels (Courtyard Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, Residence Inn Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, and Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard). Florida officials never mandated the closure of hotel establishments, but we felt that given the circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic it was the most responsible thing we could do for our staff, guests, and for Walton County. From the moment we closed our doors, we began thinking about what our day to day operations would look like once we did finally re-open. How could we encourage social distancing at our properties? What would our Food & Beverage offerings look like? How could we enable the safety of our staff and guests? What would hospitality look like in this new “normal”?
When the state of Florida entered Phase One of the re-opening process, our leadership and ownership began putting the pieces in place to welcome guests back to our three properties. During the closure we took advantage of this time to have our management team come in and pay some extra attention to our hotels – washing carpets, touching-up baseboards, cleaning tile and grout. After researching emerging best practices regarding COVID-19 in the travel industry, we prepared to adjust several processes at our properties.
And then in an instant, everything changed. On Wednesday, May 6th, a wildfire five miles to the east of our hotels destroyed almost 600 acres and over 30 homes here in South Walton. That evening, even though our hotels were closed, four of our employees volunteered to come in and help accommodate our neighbors fleeing the evacuation zone. Gloved and masked, and observing social distancing recommendations, our team members were able to help almost 40 families find shelter for the night, without charge. Thankfully, due to the heroic work of the South Walton Fire Department, Walton County Sherriff’s Office, and other agencies, many of these guests were able to go home the next day – but some were not.
Faced with the urgent need of our displaced guests and prepared with over a month of planning, we made the decision to reopen one of our hotels. Internally we have coined a phrase with our team; that the “word of the month” this month is not COVID-19, but “change” – things are changing constantly and we are committed to evolving with any situation that comes our way in order to best serve our community, our guests, and our team. We will be phasing open our other properties in the coming weeks and are looking forward to welcoming guests at our hotels safely. For more information on our specific operating processes please visit our website here.
We know that things are different now. Our world has changed. But one thing that hasn’t is the heart of hospitality and the heart of our management company. Howard Hospitality has always been dedicated to bringing joy to our guests while cultivating a positive working environment through visionary leadership that values its employees and gives back to the community. That hasn’t changed, and it never well.
Vice President Howard Hospitality