As Hurricane Irene strengthens into one of the worst coastal threats in years, one South Florida hotel is offering a way to take advantage of the storm.
Solé on the Ocean, a resort on Sunny Isles Beach near Miami, now offers discounts pinned to the strength of gathering hurricanes. The deals, lasting through November, are advertised as "a reason to celebrate Hurricane Season."
A Category 1 hurricane cuts 10 percent off a room price; a Category 5, 50 percent. Each named storm will carry an extra perk: If Philippe or Sean become active, guests win a free hour of paddleboarding or bottle of champagne.
The promotion has faced blowback, with some calling it a gimmick dependent on disaster. The timing is also unfortunate: On this week 19 years ago, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida, becoming one of the most destructive hurricanes in history.
"If you've lived through one, you've lived through the fear," said Russ Kimball, an inductee of the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and 30-year manager of Clearwater Beach's Sheraton Sand Key.
"If a hotel has a good conscience, you want to try and help the situation," Kimball said. "I don't know why or how you would want to capitalize on it."
Tom Feeley, co-owner of Solé on the Ocean, defended the promotion, calling it a way to win back guests scared off by news of distant storms.
"It's not that we're making light of it," Feeley said. In his view, the hotel is saying "that just because there's a storm out there doesn't mean you can't come and enjoy the beach."
Five percent of the proceeds from reservations will be donated to a "hurricane relief fund," he said, though he didn't know which one.
The promotion would still stand if a hurricane was headed toward the 24-story, 249-room resort, Feeley said. "But we would probably not encourage people to come stay here."
Darlene Kole, president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, called the hotel's idea an "ingenious marketing tool," and some hoteliers thought the idea sounded creative. But none of them planned to copy it.
"If you're a savvy marketer in today's environment, that's a good thing," said John Marks, who manages the Loews Don CeSar Hotel. But "I wouldn't want to have a promotion plan centered around where a hurricane's going."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.