Updates with four other Hyatt Hotels that shutting due to evacuation orders.
A night at a $3.5 billion Bahamas hotel will get you a lot of things. Shelter in a hurricane is not one of them.
The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, the recently-opened luxury resort and casino in the Bahamas capital City Nassau, on New Providence Island, opened by Hyatt Hotels Corporation (H) - Get Report earlier this year, is telling customers they will be required to evacuate the property if the island is determined to be in the path of Hurricane Irma.
"It is possible that we will experience dangerous weather conditions by the end of this week and this weekend," wrote general manager Scott Allen in a letter to hotel guests on Tuesday obtained by TheStreet. "Should the island be placed under a Hurricane Warning, we will require all guests to evacuate the property either to local shelter or to evacuate the island."
The 1,800-room property that includes a casino and golf course opened its doors in April after missing three scheduled openings since December 2014, opening up about 300 rooms at the time. The project was plagued with problems and missteps since first breaking ground in 2011, including a bankruptcy filing and legal wrangling, according to a report from The Miami Herald. It had an initial price tag of $3.5 billion. Construction is ongoing.
Hyatt said four other hotels in the region are ceasing normal operations due to mandatory or suggested evacuation orders, including the Hyatt Centric in Key West; the Hyatt Place Marathon/Florida Keys; the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in Ft. Lauderdale, and the Confidante in Miami Beach.
Hyatt guests with pre-paid reservations will get refunds, and cancellation fees will be waived, said Carla Santiago, a Hyatt spokeswoman.
"The safety and security of our guests and colleagues is our top priority," Santiago wrote in an email.
It is not particularly unusual for tourists to be evacuated early in the hurricane response process, said Craig Fugate, who ran the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under former President Barack Obama and handled emergency management in Florida under former Governor Jeb Bush.
"In the Florida Keys, one of the first phases of an evacuation is to start the tourists evacuating from all of the parks and hotels," he said. "You're trying to get those populations to go home, to get out of the area."
To be sure, on islands, there may not be much of an option once airlines have stopped flights and shut down. And hotels' storm preparedness varies. "Not all properties are designed [to serve as hurricane shelters]," said Fugate. "Each one is a case-by-case basis."
The nearby Atlantis Paradise Island has secure shelter facilities on-site for guests and provisions if conditions worsen, said a spokeswoman for the property. She noted that Nassau and Paradise Island are not under official storm advisory from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at this time.
Most hotels advise guests to shelter in place during hurricanes if there is no way for guests to evacuate the area entirely, said University of Houston professor Carl Boger.
"As long as there's not an evacuation, the typical response of most hotels is you shelter your guests in one place because there's no where else to go," he said. "It's when the government issues a warning saying you must evacuate, which means that the property of the Hyatt is probably under danger of collapsing."
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating six islands in the south because authorities would be unable to help those caught in the "potentially catastrophic" storm, according to The Associated Press. He said people would be flown to Nassau, where the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is located.
"The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm," he said.
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