It’s been an extremely challenging year for unstoppable Los Cabos. On September 14, 2014, Hurricane Odile—the most powerful hurricane to ever strike Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula—devastated the resort town, destroying properties and vital infrastructures. One year later, Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort has been restored to celebrate the emotional Phase One reopening of its property.
Following a year of painful recovery and tireless renovation, Hilton Los Cabos is once again a beautiful hotel, and has reopened its doors to welcome guests again. The Baja beach resort has a 50 percent repeat guest ratio, and among the very first to arrive for the reopening were a dozen returning guests who survived Hurricane Odile. I was privileged to witness the reunion of guests and staff, and to hear their emotional stories of fear, unity and heroics.
Through smiles and tears, guests expressed how they owed their lives to the dedicated Hilton Los Cabos staff who, led personally by General Manager Tim Booth, went door-to-door to make sure everyone present during the hurricane was safely evacuated to an emergency shelter in the hotel ballroom. “They literally formed a lifeline, holding hands to make a human chain to rescue us from our rooms,” said returning hotel guest Tom Crook, a Southwest Airlines pilot who, with his wife Heather, was trapped inside by 124 mph wind suction. “The force was like a jet engine.”
While Booth and his team braved the elements to bring everyone to safety, other staff members prepared such shelter niceties as rollaway beds with fresh linens, drinking water, and pool concierge Jorge’s signature treat: popsicles. The Los Cabos region would be without electricity for weeks, but Hilton Los Cabos immediately put its emergency generator to work and turned on the lights. Soon, guests discovered that the tireless staff had prepared breakfast and fresh-baked bread. Once the storm had passed, and for the next several days, the Hilton team stayed on the job, even when their shifts ended. To keep nerves at bay, they organized kid’s games, calisthenics, and music. “Hilton prepares all properties for natural disasters, and this team had the emergency procedure down pat,” said Alex Mai, director of Brand Performance Support, Latin America & Caribbean, Full Service Brands, Hilton Worldwide.
When Booth and his senior staff stepped outside of the shelter for the first time, the devastation was heart wrenching. More than 100 guestrooms were destroyed; broken glass and rubble littered rooms and blocked walkways. Trees were uprooted and cars were strewn about like leaves. But everyone on the property was safe. So they got to work.
Employees were divided into work crews to assess damage, reestablish outside communication, administer medical aid, set up a security perimeter, launch a four-day rescue effort for missing Hilton team members until all were found, and even assisted desperate tourists from a non-Hilton hotel nearby. “What our team members did during Hurricane Odile, putting our guests first above everything, is something we’ll never forget at Hilton,” said Rob Palleschi, Global Head, Full Service Brands, Hilton Worldwide. “Their resilience and winning spirit carried us through the storm.”
The dedication of the Hilton team was not lost on the guests. “They treated us like family,” recalls guest Jennifer Lowry, teary-eyed, “even though they weren’t certain how their own families would get through this.” When staffers began the Herculean clean-up tasks, appreciative guests volunteered to join them, picking up brooms and buckets. Together they removed wreckage, cleared paths, and swept the ocean’s flotsam and jetsam from the common areas. The line between hosts and guests blurred as they became a unified Hilton Los Cabos team.
It took days before military transport reached Hilton to evacuate guests to Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Guests were grateful to be rescued, but reluctant to leave Hilton locals behind. So they left behind 150 suitcases of clothing and $120,000 in donations. When they arrived home in the U.S., they sent their Los Cabos friends 250,000 liters of drinking water and thousands of toys for their children.
The Hilton Worldwide Responds Fund donated $500,000, enough for two months of groceries for 500 people. Hilton Los Cabos provided daycare for children until their schools reopened, turned the ballroom shelter into a base of operations for regional disaster relief personnel and opened the hotel’s doors for 100 families whose homes were uninhabitable. Hilton also promised each of Hilton Los Cabos’ 350 employees that they would remain on the payroll no matter how long it took to rebuild and reopen the property. Workers were reassigned to new jobs, including the task of rebuilding 36 homes for their fellow Hilton team members.
So it’s little wonder that the Hilton Los Cabos staff is prouder than ever of their beautiful resort. They can’t stop smiling, excited for guests to see the result of their hard work: the hand-painted border motifs in every bedroom, the carved-wood paneling of the luxe La Vista Club in the new hotel-within-a-hotel, the expanded green spaces and the shimmering glass tile in the soon-to-open 7,000-square-foot spa. There’s also a stunning new lobby bar, Azul, featuring Los Cabos’ largest tequila collection.
“After the building stopped shaking, I went outside and saw the devastation and chaos,” recalls Booth, seated next to a new lobby wall covered in a wooden mosaic of fragments from furniture destroyed by the storm. “But one thing we knew at that time was that we would be here today, the whole team together, Hilton staff and guests, because of this amazing family.”