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Tropical Storm Nicole — which briefly touched down as a hurricane on Thursday morning — is plunging likely thousands of would-be attendees to the National Association of Realtors’ annual conference into uncertainty.
NAR’s annual conference, newly rebranded as NAR NXT and colloquially known as “NAR Annual,” was set to welcome 12,000 attendees at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando Nov. 9-14.
Fresh off the midterm elections and contending with a housing market in flux, the event will feature sessions on fair housing, politics, market forecasts, MLS data-sharing and a proposed update to the Realtor Code of Ethics. The trade group has also packed its schedule with stars including Venus Williams, April Ryan, Karl Rove, Jay Shetty and the co-founders of theSkimm.
But at 4 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, Orlando International Airport ceased commercial operations and the Federal Aviation Administration is currently reporting that the airport is expected to reopen at noon Eastern on Friday, Nov. 11. The airport was still closed as of Thursday afternoon.
On Tuesday, NAR CEO Bob Goldberg and NAR President Leslie Rouda Smith informed attendees that the conference “will continue as planned,” noting that storm conditions were expected to clear the area by Friday morning. On Wednesday afternoon, NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams confirmed that statement continues to apply and “we are moving forward with the conference.”
— NAR NXT, The REALTOR® Experience (@NARNXT) November 8, 2022
“We are continuing to monitor the path of the storm and are working closely with the venues in Orlando for the latest updates, as the safety of our members, partners and staff is paramount,” the nearly 1.6 million-member trade group said in its statement.
“We encourage you to adjust your flights as needed, and we look forward to seeing you at NAR NXT. Please note: Weather forecasters predict great weather this weekend!”
Meanwhile, the storm continued to strengthen Wednesday and hit Florida as a Category 1 Hurricane Thursday morning.
Hundreds of prospective attendees have taken to Facebook and Twitter to report that their flights to the event had been canceled and to express their frustration.
“With all due respect, your timeline may be correct but flights are canceled and rebooking is non-existent,” wrote Michael Simpson, designated managing broker at Baird & Warner Algonquin, in response to NAR’s announcement on Facebook.
“NAR should be letting us know what they plan to do about registration fees and guest fees for universal and other activities. To suggest the conference is moving forward as if nothing has happened and ignoring the reality for many attendees is surprising and frankly, extremely disappointing.”
On that same thread, NAR offered two options for registered attendees: Transferring their in-person registration to attend virtually and getting a refund for the difference, or transferring their registration to 2023’s annual conference. “Please email [email protected] with any requests,” the trade group wrote.
The option to attend virtually does not include governance sessions in which NAR committees meet, only education sessions.
“Our Governance meetings, which kicked off today, will continue at the Convention Center and Hyatt/surrounding hotels,” Williams told Inman.
“NAR NXT education sessions and expo will kick off on Friday. Please note that safety is our biggest concern and accommodations will be made, including virtual options for the meetings. We will continue to monitor the weather and its impact and send additional updates as available.”
Regarding governance meetings, “[o]nly committee members can participate remotely via Zoom,” Williams added. “Except for the Board of Directors and Delegate Body. And that will be available for any member to view at nar.realtor.”
All of Thursday’s conference sessions are currently scheduled to take place as planned except for “Introduction to Commercial Real Estate,” which has been canceled, according to NAR.
“Both my Wednesday and Thursday p.m. flights have been canceled. This is becoming a nightmare,” wrote one prospective attendee.
“I’m not optimistic I’ll get there before Friday or Saturday. Original flight canceled. Might be stuck in Chicago tomorrow night on the way,” wrote another.
Many attendees have been advising each other to fly in through alternative airports that are still open, such as the airport in Tampa, which is a couple of hours away by car from Orlando. “Hurricane here we come! Tampa and then driving to Orlando. #NARNXT,” wrote one attendee.
Wednesday morning, the Tampa International Airport tweeted that it expected to stay open, “but airlines may still decide to delay or cancel flights, so please check directly with your airline for the most up-to-date flight information.
Other attendees on their way to the event expressed their enthusiasm for the conference as they traveled.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep REALTORS from NAR conference!” wrote one.
“Tropical storm Nicole will not keep passionate and dedicated REALTORS from across the country away from these conferences. I cannot wait to see colleagues, friends, and leaders who make this volunteer experience worth the time away from home,” wrote another.
Nonetheless, the storm is keeping some attendees away already.
“I have to PASS this year. I cannot safely drive down thru Tropical rain surge on Thursday,” wrote one attendee.
“Our flights from Arizona have been canceled and per the airline the earliest flight we can get on is Saturday night. Which is pointless for us,” wrote another.
Others are on tenterhooks, waiting to see if their current reservations will hold.
“Was able to change American flight this morning (out of Dallas) to a Friday afternoon arrival. At least until that flight gets canceled,” wrote Inman contributor Jay Thompson.
The office of the local Realtor association, the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, will be closed Thursday and Friday due to the weather to potentially reopen on Monday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.