NORMAN — Norman hotels are used to big crowds. Whether it’s the extended family of every graduating senior at OU or tens of thousands of visiting Sooner fans, Norman always finds a way to house them.
But, this week, Norman hoteliers found themselves confronted by an unexpected crowd: thousands of Moore residents displaced by the tornado that ripped across Cleveland County on Monday.
“It’s like when you’re sold out for a football weekend,” says Stephen Koranda, head of the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau. ”Only, this weekend is going to last for 60 to 90 days.”
The Embassy Suites Norman’s 283 rooms were already mostly occupied by attendees of the Oklahoma Conference on Aging when displaced people began to arrive. It was difficult to tell the difference between Moore residents who might need extra care and highway travelers who had simply pulled off because the road was blocked, says Michael Vance, general manager of the Embassy Suites.
“As people were lining up, we were just working to maintain calm at the desk,” says Vance. “I was positioned in the lobby, talking to guests as they were coming in. ... Trying to tell people, you’re here, you’re safe, and we’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.”
Hotels along I-35 were filled within hours, from the Embassy Suites down to the Holiday Inn. During this period of mounting pressure, the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau stepped in to serve as an information hub, telling hotels that were fully booked where to direct arriving guests. This information-sharing network reached hotels from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Tulsa.
“Instead of the front desk person at the Holiday Inn making 25 calls to find out which properties have space they can utilize our office as a liaison,” says Koranda. ”With the influx of customers, they have more to do than sit and make those phone calls.”