Time To Revise Your Crisis Communications Plan

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria; the Mexico City earthquake; the tragedy in Las Vegas; the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties… all are constant reminders of our mortality as well as our responsibilities as hoteliers to safeguard our guests.

Calamities on an epic scale are always hard to fully comprehend, especially in the immediate aftermath, when things are so often hard to control. My first thoughts go out to the families who are directly affected by these horrible events, but rather than refuse to believe that this can happen at your property, we must contemplate the inevitable and formulate a plan.

Years ago, I was working at a hotel in Manhattan during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Witnessing firsthand this incredible situation, the crisis management undertaken and the approach taken by hotel staff are permanent reminders of the crucial nature of being prepared.

Though nothing can ever fully prepare a property for a natural or manmade disaster, it’s a fundamental duty of every operator to ensure the safety of our guests. We live in a world of punctuated events, so even if you are not near an ocean, on a fault line or within a highly urbanized area, you must be ready.

Planning is the Critical First Step
In the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy, I spoke to several luxury property GMs to better understand their preparatory status. Thankfully, all claimed to have a procedure for crisis management of some sort. However, only half had a clearly defined crisis communications plan.

In this era of social media and rapid forms of information dissemination like text messaging, I find this very concerning. A crisis communications plan should be assigned as a critical priority to your director of marketing in conjunction with your risk management team. Your failure as a general manager to act could cost you, both in terms of lost revenue or reputation as well as long-term protection of the asset value.

A Crisis Communications Checklist
At a minimum, your crisis communications plan should include the following precautionary factors:

  • A complete contact list for all senior staff, including home telephone and cellular numbers as well as personal (not property) email accounts
  • A contact list for senior advertising, social media and public relations staff
  • Permission lists (including all passwords) for your website, blog, Facebook account, Twitter account, Instagram account and any other social media
  • A series of protocols that identify who will be the spokesperson for your property and how communications are to be handled by staff during a crisis
  • An incidence reporting structure to document issues and responses
  • Training tips on dealing with the media
  • Sample scripts for news releases and your social media outlets

Testing Your Crisis Communications Plan
I recommend a separate, in-depth team meeting to address crisis situations. Apart from reviewing the plan, role play can form an important part of bringing the plan to life. As an example, split into teams and assign each team hypothetical scenarios for which they must manage. Have them follow your crisis communications plan, craft responses and note any suggestions that must be made to properly handle each specific event.

Your team will appreciate the challenges and be better equipped to supervise a difficult state of affairs. Most importantly, be sure to revisit your plan every year. An ideal reminder might be to coincide this with your annual budget planning.

Moreover, crises that affect your business may not occur on your property. A regional crisis can be just as detrimental to your business, though. Some examples worthy of consideration are a flood or earthquake in your major feeder market, the closure of your local airport, or a breakdown of utilities such as electrical power or fresh water.

Needless to say, all of us will probably be faced with a crisis at one time or another. No matter what the ordeal, the situations are always stressful. How we as senior managers deal with these scenarios are the true tests of our ability as hoteliers and communicators. Having a crisis communications plan will definitely reduce the risks that stem from such miscues. You owe it to yourself, your staff and your guests to be as prepared as possible.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, posted to HotelsMag on Tuesday, October 17, 2017)