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In the Wake of a Fire, Resort Community Pulls Together to Host Displaced Events

13 Nov, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

A fire that swept through a historic mountain inn and golf resort, displacing multiple special events, has also proven to be a testament to the strength of the hosting community in that region, as multiple properties – all typically competitors for the same business – stepped up to house guests, host events and work with worried planners.

It all started on November 1 when a fire broke out at the Pocono Manor Resort and Spa. The 240-room property, known to local residents as “The Grand Lady of the Mountains,” is a five-square-mile mountaintop resort in the Pocono Mountains, in the Northeast corner of Pennsylvania. A fixture on the National Registry of Historic Places, Pocono Manor opened in 1902. Its facilities include an 18-hole golf course, as well as opportunities for activities such as archery, trap shooting, horseback riding, swimming, cross country skiing, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.

While there were guests in 25 of the resort’s rooms at the time the fire broke out, all were able to make it outside safely. However, the resort, including its iconic clock tower, was devastated as firefighters struggled to contain the flames amid whipping winds. Lehigh Valley Live noted that 15 to 20 fire departments had responded to the scene, from Monroe, Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon, Pike, Lackawanna and Luzerne counties. Although the fire was extinguished, only parts of the hotel's main building remained standing and it was uninhabitable by guests.

But it was what happened next that has the attention of the industry. Competitors stepped forward with offers to help host displaced events. According to news station WNEP, assistance came in immediately.

Among those offering their facilities was Steve Ertle, who manages the Baymont Inn and Suites and the lounge near Bartonsville. Ertle reached out with an offer to rehome a wedding party scheduled to come to Pocono Manor.

"I immediately got on the phone with our guys and got the rooms switched over. I got in touch with the bride and made sure she was calming down and de-stressing a little bit. That is part of what we do in the Poconos. We want to make sure the guest experience is still intact. That is what is important and that is why everyone works so well together," Ertle said.

The wedding was supposed to take place the first weekend of November – which was just when the fire hit. The speed at which guests were able to be accommodated, says Brian Bossuyt, Executive Vice President and CMO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, was a testament to the character of the area’s hospitality industry.

“The lines of communication were open the whole time,” he noted. “People might be competitors, but we all look at ourselves as a community first.”

Up and down the Poconos, there were offers from hotel and resort managers to help accommodate those who had planned on staying in the affected property, and offering their offices up to the now-displaced business staff of Pocono Manor. (The only good news here is that the resort was scheduled to close at the end of November for a two-year renovation project and had not made plans to accept guests or book events during that time).

“That was really the saving grace,” said Bossuyt.

WNEP reported that those renovations were scheduled to be completed in 2022, coinciding with the completion of a proposed $350 million shopping and entertainment complex nearby.

Bossuyt said that many hotels have stepped up to place about 130 Pocono Manor employees who weren’t expecting to be out of work until after the end of November – particularly in light of the fact that the holidays are coming up, making losing pay an even more pressing concern.

In a meeting with community members, the hotel’s owner vowed to reopen.

"Rest assured we will build a brand new and spectacular facility here that I'm sure everyone will be proud of," owner Joe Jerome said.

On its website, Pocono Manor noted that it plans to keep its spa, golf course and other amenities open during the rebuilding process. Bossuyt said details will be available in the coming weeks as to a timeline for the rebuild – but added that having parts of the Pocono Manor property up and running would be a positive step.

“We know there will still be tourists who want to use the golf course or the stables or just check on how the renovations are coming.”

And, he added, help continues to come in.

“The emergency responders along with the rest of the community have been working to aid Pocono Manor, its guests and employees since the beginning of the fire,” he noted in a statement on the organization’s website. “Now it’s heartwarming to see fellow resorts stepping up to offer assistance including Woodloch Resort, Skytop Lodge, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, Baymont Inn & Suites, Camelback Lodge, French Manor Inn & Spa, Great Wolf Lodge and countless others answering the call for help. During times of tragedy, the Poconos community stands together to help each other. That’s what makes us Pocono Proud.”

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