Skip navigation
BHG Financial executives greet nearly 300 guests at the opening reception of the firm's semi-annual customer meeting in Naples, Fla., on October 17, 2022.

Whirlwind Planning for Post-Hurricane Meeting in SW Florida

With less than three weeks to adapt, planner Katie Wegerski had to make fast decisions about BHG Financial’s big customer event in Naples. But in the end, both her attendees and her executives were happy.

Talk about being in a bind: When your 370-person educational and networking meeting for customers is set to happen in an area where a major hurricane raged just 20 days before, there’s simply no way to know if you’ve chosen the right way to proceed—until the meeting dates arrive.

But Katie Wegerski, event manager for BHG Financial out of Syracuse, N.Y., knew this much 10 days out from her October 17-19 event at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, not far from where the eye of Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28: The airport was open; the resort had its power back and suffered no structural damage, only cosmetic; property staff was available to work; and the resort could use the revenue at that difficult moment. Oh, and force majeure would not apply to a cancellation or postponement.

In fact, the biggest challenge Wegerski faced was getting attendees to show up. “We had a bunch of cancellations in the first few days after the storm,” she says. “We do a lot of social entertaining at the event, and some attendees might have felt guilty about enjoying themselves in a destination dealing with such a terrible situation. But to ease their minds, we noted in our communications that the hotel was extremely grateful for us wanting to move forward.” Come October 17, about 300 of BHG’s customers showed up on property.

HurricaneMtgBHG3.pngAttendees might also have been swayed by the fact that BHG created volunteer opportunities for them on day one. With the opening reception scheduled for 6 p.m., BHG set up a five-hour midday program for meeting participants and staff to do clean-up work, serve food to community members and relief workers from out of town (see photo), and perform other tasks. “Community centers across the area were desperate for volunteers; they were so happy to hear from us,” Wegerski says. “Many of our people worked in a warehouse, coordinating donated materials and loading trucks.” To further help the region, Wegerski set up a gift-card drop box near the entrance to the meeting space for any individual or company that wanted to contribute. The result: Nearly $10,000 collected for the cause.

The Main Event
The purpose behind BHG’s meeting, a semi-annual affair called the National Seminar, is “to educate customers on the full range of our products, and to network and build relationships with them,” Wegerski says. The biggest question among her executives: Would the quality of the on-property experience be what they wanted for such an important audience? To try to ensure that it would be, “I did a lot of texting with the property’s event services people,” she notes. Starting October 1, “every day I asked for an update and how things were moving along” in each department and area of the property. She relayed those updates to her management team, who would then ask her: You’re the expert—what do you think?

“I had a gut feeling that it would work out okay for our meeting. I asked the management team if I should create a plan B for a new location, and they said no, so they were optimistic too. Now, when they still had no power at the property on October 6, that’s when I started to get nervous. But power was back on October 8 and they reopened on October 10, so the hotel staff had a full week to prepare for us.”

Wegerski says that the Naples Grande had sustained a lot of broken windows and torn-up landscaping, “but you would not have known something happened around the property even though it is just walking distance to the beach. Fortunately, the property is on land that sits a little higher than much of the surrounding area, so that definitely helped” the property avoid damaging flooding.

HurricaneMtgBHG5.pngAs for service on site, it was all systems go, Wegerski says. “Everybody was ready to work; there was not a hiccup with staff at all. There was never a moment where I could not find someone when I needed something done.” And for the off-site excursions—a round of golf, a dolphin-watching cruise, and a deep-sea excursion—“everything we booked worked out; it was almost a miracle. The resort’s golf course had some fallen trees and some standing water in a few areas, but the course was fine to play. For the boat trips, the docks were storm-reinforced, so they and the boats were intact.” (article continues after photo below)

After the meeting ended, attendee reviews were “even better than for some of our past events,” Wegerski says. “I think people understood the situation and appreciated the experience we were able to create under the circumstances.”

What advice would she have for other planners who must contend with a touch-and-go situation such as hers? “Emphasize to the property that you just want open and candid communication. Just tell me what is happening—don’t sugarcoat it and then have us come to the property and be surprised. Give me a status update every day and let us make our decisions.”

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.