Marco Island Hilton's lost business after fire is gain for Naples hotels

The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa was already closed for renovations at the time Hurricane Irma hit due to a June 9 electrical fire and June 12 flood, which combined caused more than $1 million in damage. The hotel will reopen in 2018.

The temporary and unexpected closing of the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa has caused some headaches and forced management to send business to competitors on and off the island.  

While the closing has hurt the resort, the destination hasn't taken a hit because virtually all of the resort's lost business has moved to other places in Collier County, said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"They indicated to us that all group business had been relocated to other properties in Collier County," he said. "That was good news."

More: Contractors say Marco Island Hilton owed $12M for renovations

About 20 percent of the resort's business comes from groups. 

Meeting rooms have been in short supply on the island. With a new state-of-the-art function area under construction, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort has only one of its ballrooms open, with 10,000 square feet of space.  

This is the time of year, however, when most of the visitors are leisure travelers, coming strictly for vacation. Summer brings many families to the island and Collier County, as well as the region.

Since occupancy runs lower in the summer, there are more vacant rooms on Marco and across the county to take in guests who would have otherwise stayed at the Hilton, Wert said.  

Most of the relocated guests haven't gone far, said Andrew Neubauer, the Hilton's director of sales and marketing.

"We just found that guests and groups, they are on Marco Island for a reason. So where they want to be is on Marco Island and secondarily, we move them to Naples," he said. 

In this file photo from November 2016, heavy equipment carries construction material in front of the hotel. The Marco Island Hilton has been closed since June 1 as the hotel undergoes a $40 million renovation.

Some of the business has ended up at Hilton Naples in North Naples, one of the closest hotels operating under the same brand name.  

The Marco Hilton closed in June after a minor electrical fire activated sprinklers, causing extensive flooding. The Bar at 560 has reopened, but the rest of the property won't be back in operation until Dec. 1, as the season begins to pick up. 

As a result of the flooding, the resort has undertaken "significant repairs and additional upgrades to guest rooms and common areas," according to a statement by Olshan Properties, the developer, owner and operator of the property.

Room renovations were planned next year anyway, so Olshan moved up the schedule for improvements since the resort had to be closed for major repairs anyway.  

The entire pool area is being revamped. The Marco Island Hilton has been closed since June 1 as the hotel undergoes a $40 million renovation.

The resort has 173 employees and Olshan took steps to keep them all through the closure.

More: Hilton Marco Island to close for $40 million upgrade

More: Work in progress: Marco Hilton hustles to complete $40 million makeover

More: Marco Hilton remains closed after electrical fire

"We greatly value our staff and understand the critical role that each one plays in the success of our resort," the company said in a statement. "Our hotel team members will continue to be paid while the resort is closed and we anticipate being fully staffed upon reopening to continue to deliver the highest quality of service known to our guests."

After the resort closed a few months ago, management canceled all confirmed reservations through Nov. 30, promising affected guests a special booking rate next year "in appreciation for their understanding and loyalty" to the Hilton.

In this file photo, guests splash and relax poolside at the Marco Island Hilton May 26, 2015. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

The closing put 310 guest rooms out of commission, along with 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Some visitors have scrambled to change their plans at the last minute due to the closing. One such guest wrote about her experience on TripAdvisor's website, saying she never got the email about the Hilton's closure from the resort, then had to hustle with the help of its staff to find a room elsewhere. She ended up at the JW Marriott on Marco. The Hilton picked up the extra cost of the room and offered to give her a voucher for two nights at the Marco Hilton in 2018, she said. 

Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing at the JW Marriott, said it's hard to measure how much extra business her property is getting from the Hilton this year because the Hilton was closed last summer too for a $40 million renovation, which debuted in January. But she knows the extra business is there through reports from staff and guests.

On the island, the hotels work closely together and help each other, though they're competitors, Cox said. She described it as a "playing nicely in the sand box community."