'Extreme demand': Hotels in The Woodlands area sell out reservations while juggling outages, limited staff

The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center was one of the area's hotels booked to its current capacity in the wake of regional power and water outages. (Caitlin Whittington/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center was one of the area's hotels booked to its current capacity in the wake of regional power and water outages. (Caitlin Whittington/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center was one of the area's hotels booked to its current capacity in the wake of regional power and water outages. (Caitlin Whittington/Community Impact Newspaper)

The past year has been "far from normal," said Fred Domenick, the general manager of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center.

Nonetheless, the week of Feb. 15 threw a new curveball at the hotel industry. After a year of low occupancy amid reduced travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, power and water outages in the Greater Houston area sent many residents to hotels for the possibility of warmth and electricity throughout the week.

"There was extreme demand," Domenick said in a Feb. 18 phone interview. "We loaded 40 rooms into the Marriott.com system, and they were gone in six minutes."

On the website for Visit the Woodlands, the township's convention and visitors bureau, a tool for users to find local hotel rooms showed little to no availability at various times during the day Feb. 18, although availability is subject to change throughout the day. The website also includes a list of restaurants that are open—and hours of operation in some cases—each day, as many facilities deal with their own power outages and frozen or broken water pipes.

For hotels, the sudden influx of customers was needed but presented its own challenges since some locations have seen staff reductions and COVID-19 distancing precautions are still in effect.

"We came off of the busiest couple of nights we’ve had in almost a year on Valentine's [Day] weekend. ... We did proactively put about 30 employees in the hotel starting Sunday night from all departments so we could operate as close to normal [as possible]," Domenick said.

Hotel management had developed a plan similar to one they might use for a hurricane Feb. 11, he said. The storm presented a series of challenges, from a power outage 5 a.m. the morning of Feb. 15 that lasted for 14 hours to several burst pipes throughout the week. The pipes were quickly isolated and repaired or schedule for repairs, he said, and did not affect any rooms.

As for the power outage early in the week, he said staff was able to continue to offer limited food and beverage options, and managers and administrative professionals joined the staff in seeing to guests' needs.

"[They] were doing things like laundry, running food and moving luggage, and doing other things to assist the customers," he said.

The sudden rush of business comes on the heels of a year where hotel occupancy tax collection in 2020 was more than 90% below budget at its peak in May and June, according to information from The Woodlands Township.

Despite intermittent power outages, the hotels owned by The Howard Hughes Corp. in The Woodlands have also stayed open, Houston Region president Jim Carman said. Those hotels are Embassy Suites by Hilton at Hughes Landing, The Woodlands Resort and The Westin at The Woodlands.

"Our kitchen at Embassy Suites in Hughes Landing has been proud to serve food to our hardworking Precinct 3 Road and Bridge Crew who are working tirelessly to keep our local roadways as safe as possible," Carman said in a statement. "We are fortunate to be able to assist our Howard Hughes team members who are displaced and many other families during this unprecedented time. Room availability has been tight as some of our staff could not safely travel to the properties until recently. We are extremely grateful for our hospitality team who have stayed overnight at these properties in order to service our customers and our team members."

JJ Hollie, president of The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview Feb. 18 that the events of the week represented a disruption for many other industries in the region, but he said economic recovery will continue in the months ahead.

"We'll continue that recovery, but it's another body blow in a series of hard hits that our businesses and our residents have taken," he said.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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