What To Do When Disaster Strikes!

Hurricanes, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks. Over the past month, the travel industry has had to react swiftly to get the word about the effects of such natural and man-made disasters.
The challenge for hotels, resorts and cities is to ensure they have a strategy in place to clearly communicate with customers, travel agents and tourists who book or visit them. These places need to frequently convey what damage has occurred and when they expect to be back online or cleared for travel.

Some might say that a resort seems a frivolous consideration compared to the devastation experienced to homes and businesses from these disasters or attacks. But travel and tourism are virtually the lifeblood of many in the affected regions, so effectively communicating one’s status may mean everything to the staff and the local community. Here are some recommendations on how hotels, resorts and destinations can prepare for such circumstances.

Have a crisis communication plan:
If a disaster does hit, everyone at the location should know their roles, from ensuring the safety of those in the local area, to assessing damage, to communicating internally and to the outside world, including those who are booked for future stays and travel agents. Extend that disaster plan to your external public relations or communications firm so they know exactly how you will react to any disaster and can be on the same page with you.

Have multiple ways to communicate:
Given that natural disasters and terrorism can cause wide-spread damage, you need multiple ways to communicate with a global audience. Post the latest information about your location in a visible part of your website and update it frequently. Also, be sure to have access to mobile phones, multiple laptops and tablets all with access to social media. Indeed, in the recent storms, social media—including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, SnapChat, etc.—was the only way to communicate with the outside world.

Have a good communications or marketing firm:
Hotels, resorts, or cities that have such firms can rely on them to get the word out to consumers and travel agents about the status of their clients, so it is important to develop a clear plan that can be implemented by your agency when disaster hits.

Have an effective social media program:
If customers and travel agents know you regularly use social media to communicate, that’s where they will turn when a disaster hits for information from you. Social media can be your lifeline to the outside world.

Communicate often and honestly:
Once a crisis hits, be candid about the damage that has occurred, safety and the status of infrastructure or facilities. There’s no sense in painting a rosy picture if it doesn’t exist. You should try to provide photos after the event has safely passed. Then provide updated photos as repairs are made. If you need to close the location for a significant period, let tourists or guests who have booked and their travel agents know. You may want to consider shutting down distribution channels altogether.

Have a clear policy on cancellations and re-bookings:
If your destination is severely damaged and can’t accept visitors or guests, make sure you have a policy on refunds, re-bookings, commissions, etc. It’s probably a good idea to trigger that policy even if your location has not been marred, since you don’t want guests who are dissatisfied because there is little to do or see in the surrounding area.

If you work to develop an overall policy as outlined above, you can better meet the challenge when a major storm or other disaster hits. The key is to communicate effectively, honestly and often about what’s going on during such an event. In the end, honest communication will provide a bond of trust with travelers.

As we remember the recent devastation, please consider contributing to one of the following relief efforts:

As always, I welcome your feedback on what’s changing in the luxury market today. I look forward to getting your comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!