I am sure we all watched the unfolding of the horrible drama at the Westlake Shopping Center in Kenya with complete horror. Imagine how the lives of innocent people spending a Saturday shopping were turned around in an instant. No one in their right mind condones such acts of terrorism. And, while the causes of this extremism can be argued incessantly, the simple fact is that terrible, unforeseen events happen.
In an informal poll, I asked 25 senior managers (of North American properties) four questions to better understand their preparedness. Why don’t you answer these questions for yourself:
- Does your property have a formal disaster plan?
- Have you and your executive team reviewed this plan within the past 12 months?
- Do you have a formal crisis communications plan – a specific program to deal with guests, owners, employees and media?
- Have you and your crisis communications team reviewed this communications plan within the past 12 months?
The survey results are pretty disappointing. Whereas some 84% (21 out of 25) of those surveyed had a disaster plan, less than half of those surveyed (10 of the 21 who said yes) had reviewed their plans in the past year.
The results for a crisis communications plan were worse. Only 32% (8 out of 25) had a formal crisis communications plan and remarkably none of them had reviewed it in the past year. What were your own results?
Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?
Yes, this is the title of my first book, but it underscores an important managerial trait pertaining to crisis communications. Ostriches are those with their proverbial ‘heads in the sand’. They are set in their ways and refuse to continually reexamine their operations through a series of ‘What if?’ analyses. Llamas are soft, friendly animals that can both go with the flow of the herd or break out on their own to brave the rugged Andean foothills from where they originate. From these conflicting descriptions, it’s easy to tell which camp I want you to fall in.
Whether it is group or individual violence, hurricane or flood, wildfire or earthquake, as a GM or asset manager, you must be prepared. This is part of your fiduciary responsibility to your owners as well as your guests. Frankly, if I was an insurance provider, I would mandate this exercise! Sticking your head in the ground and hoping that the fickle finger of fate will constantly pass you by is just not good enough.
There are many types of crisis that can ensue. Remember too that your property has both a physical plant and a persona that requires protection. Disaster does not have to be catastrophic to cause significant effects to your bottom line. Here are just some of the items that you might wish to bring up in your next planning committee meeting as an exercise in crisis management:
- An E. coli outbreak at a group function leaves dozens sick, some in critical condition in hospital.
- A natural disaster renders the ‘quick way’ to your resort impassable. The alternate will require an extra hour from the key feeder market due to car overload on the thoroughfare.
- A celebrity commits a felony in your property. Before you know it, the entire media has cameras aimed at your lobby.
- A fire in a storeroom gets out of control, burning part of your property. In the ensuing maelstrom, it is found that your property did not meet several fire code stipulations, leading to guest injuries.
- A dismissed employee starts a negative website with YouTube links that show improper food handling in your kitchen.
These situations are not fiction! I have personally experienced all of them. I ask the question, again, are you prepared? Llamas know that it is their duty to accept that something unpredictable will inevitably affect them; ostriches shrug it off and think it will never happen to them.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on September 30, 2013)