The important roles hotels play in natural disasters
That’s how people’s lives and communities are left in the wake of a natural disaster. Throughout such often-catastrophic events, the surprising good nature of citizens and organizations shine.
On the heels of recent hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey, as in the past, there are hospitality groups which stepped up their efforts to provide safe havens and serve in other ways as praiseworthy examples of the important role that hotels and resorts can play during natural disasters. These hospitality organizations have broader responsibilities and impact throughout such catastrophies, and many have developed better emergency practices as a result. Here are some of the initiatives that hotels across the affected regions have adopted in response to the effects of a devastating hurricane season.
For example, following the devastating impact of last month’s storms in the Caribbean, the Caribbean Hotel Investment Conference and Operations Summit, will work with the Rotary Foundation to provide necessities such as water, canned food, and clothing to residents throughout the Caribbean that were affected by these tragic events, writes Leora Lanz, a Boston University School of Hospitality Administration faculty member and owner of LHL Communications in a recent article.
“The Rotary Foundation has local expertise and a long history associated with operating in the region, specifically on the islands impacted by the hurricanes,” according to Lanz. “HVS CHICOS has made a donation to the Rotary Foundation. The Bermuda Tourism Authority, representing a nation not impacted by the storms, but an island that wants to help its brothers and sisters in the region, has generously matched the HVS CHICOS donation.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Hyatt Hotel in Orlando reduced their cleaning fee from $150 to $50, to allow dogs during the storm; thus allowing 900 dogs in the hotel, which is amazing, says Suzanne Markham-Bagnera, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration.
“Personally, I applaud the Hyatt, as I was so upset to see all of the pets left by irresponsible owners leaving them tied to trees or fences, that allowed them to stay, since shelters would not accommodate pets. From an operational standpoint, the cleaning process and fee that must go into cleaning those rooms for health reasons is expensive, hence a high pet fee, to ensure that the allergens in that room are removed. It’s a small effort, costly ton the hotels part, but an effort in good community relations,” says Bagnera.
In the past, Marriott had over twenty hotels impacted during Hurricane Katrina, says Bagnera. “There were lessons learned from that storm, with the flood waters about data safety of documents and files – that not all things/records should be stored on site—as much was lost due to those storms,” she says.
Significant monetary aid for victims of Katrina came from InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which had several hotels damaged as a result. More than $1 million in cash and in-kind donations was raised to help the company’s employees and victims of the storm, by corporate employees, hotel staff, owners, loyalty club members, and vendors, according to an article in Hotel Business. In addition, IHG hotels nationwide have provided food and shelter to Katrina’s victims, helped coordinate medical care, worked with evacuees to register their children for school, organized supply drives and fundraisers and relaxed pet policies.
A bittersweet lesson learned came out of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive force in Texas, when one Omni hotel employee who was assisting in evacuating guests from rising flood waters drowned, says Bagnera. “I can’t even imagine the impact that this situation has on its employees,” she says. The hard lesson, she says, surrounds, “The care we provide our employees, which must be paramount.”
Looking forward, there are additional insights hotel management should gleen in effort to adopt better practices when natural disasters strike.
One such helpful tip includes, “Keeping rates in check and not inflating our price gauging is important. Some hotels have worked with offering lower rates for locals, that is the more community-minded effort to have. However, individual owners are the ones that sometimes cause media stirrups by capitalizing on the challenges of others,” says Bagnera.
Another key pointer includes focusing on a hotel chain’s Loss Prevention Manual, says Bagnera.
“While most management teams don’t focus on this material regularly, when preparation steps need to be taken for an upcoming, weather-related situation—flood, hurricane, typhoon, tsunami, tornado or earthquake—you can prepare by pulling out your binder and reviewing the steps. This way, the property can also make the procedure more specific at the hotel and a post mortem to the event should occur, so that you can adjust any steps to better prepared in the future,” says Bagnera.