6 million people. Displaced.

Where will they all go?

It’s difficult to capture in words what it is like to leave your home and your belongings not knowing what will happen after you leave.

When Hurricane Irma fixed her steely-eyed gaze of destruction on the home of JAI, we felt the pangs of helplessness first-hand. As Irma’s path changed course for the Gulf coast, I watched the JAI team go from calm to intensely concerned.

Swaths of people were already evacuating from southern and eastern Florida. Now, many on the west coast were headed out as well.  All going one way–North.

More Than a Hotel–A Safe Place

As the I-75 corridor running from the south to the north of Florida became overrun with traffic, my thoughts turned to JAI’s clients.  I first thought about the safety of those who owned and worked at hotels in the direct path of the hurricane. I knew their employees, who also had to consider their own homes and families, remained at their posts assisting guests. Breakfast areas and business centers were, no doubt, turned into strategic planning locations for business travelers and vacationers who needed to relocate.

Many people leaving needed to book rooms at other hospitality venues.  Soon, hotels in Florida and surrounding states were booked solid, as the demand for their services exceeded what they were capable of providing.

As hospitality designers, we are always thinking beyond the practical needs of guests.  We consider their felt needs as well.  We plan and design with emotions in mind.  It is typical for us to reflect on the need to relax, unwind, and feel welcomed.  Only when a disaster happens and hotels are used for shelter do we realize that our designs also bring something unexpected to the human experience. Suddenly, the hospitality industry becomes a place where people need to find comfort, peace and ease.

Guest rooms turned into more than just a place to rest a weary head–although that was certainly a great need during the storm. They became a safe haven to breathe a sigh of relief, to cry over the unknown, to offer hugs to confused children, and to make connections with family and friends. Lobby restaurants, marketplaces and breakfast rooms offered food, water, and a place to gather as a community.

There are obvious heroes during a disaster.  And then there are quiet heroes. To our clients who were part of the evacuation by either helping guests leave or welcoming them into your safe space–we thank you!  Your contribution to humanity is not unseen.

This is why I love what we do at JAI. We are committed to Design that Makes a Difference and Hurricane Irma reminded me that every project we accept becomes a space that changes lives.