To overcome threats such as Zika and natural disasters, hoteliers and local organizations have to work together to prepare for events and get the word out about the status of properties and affected areas during and after events.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—When faced with threats such as Zika virus, hurricanes and wildfires, it is often not business as usual for hotels in regions affected by natural disasters, which means a lot of communication and planning needs to be put in place to endure and recover from these types of events.
Andy Burch, regional VP of operations at Concord Hospitality Enterprises, said the company’s three hotels in the Houston area started preparing for Hurricane Harvey three days before the storm hit, which led to the success of making it through the disaster.
“So starting on Wednesday (before the storm), we really took a proactive effort to make sure that we lined up staff, we lined up all of our business needs, food suppliers, things like that to make sure that we could continue operations through the storm and beyond,” he said. “We controlled inventory for the purposes of being able to help first responders get into the area to really be able to take care of (people) and get back online so we didn’t have a lot of hotels and things out of order.”
Most people got out of town before the storm hit, Burch said, but those who were still in town looking for a place to stay communicated directly with the front desk to find out the status of Concord properties.
Miami-Dade County didn’t see much damage from Hurricane Irma, but hotels in the area hosted guests and residents from other parts of Florida that were heavily affected by the storm, according to Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and The Beaches Hotel Association.
Within 24 hours of the storm, Kallergis said hotels worked with the convention and visitors bureau to offer guests a $99 rate at many properties.
Both Burch and Kallergis mentioned that properties hosted Federal Emergency Management Agency workers and other responders.
Getting back to business
Returning to business as usual took a long time for many areas hit by hurricanes, and letting visitors know areas affected by hurricanes after the storms was challenging, sources said.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria but is recovering quickly, said Brad Dean, CEO of the Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization. Puerto Rico hosted its first convention since the storm during the first quarter of 2018, he said.
Getting the word out that Puerto Rico was safe and open for business was challenging after the storm, Dean said, because media coverage showed photos of the devastation for days and months during and after the storm.
Like Puerto Rico, photos of the devastation in Florida from Hurricane Irma created negative traveler perceptions, Kallergis said. Miami didn’t really get hit by the storm, she said, but people were still getting back to regular business in the four-week period after the hurricane.
Hotels in Miami-Dade County hosted local displaced residents and brought in a lot of group business from the Caribbean a month after, she said.
In Houston, it also took a long time for Concord properties to get back to hosting regular guests because hotels were still booked by first responders, according to Burch.
“Our inventory really starting that Saturday, Sunday, Monday, once people could start getting back into the area, it was all already consumed by people who were responding to the event,” he said. “It wasn’t until probably three to four weeks after the hurricane that some of the insurance adjusters and things started kind of getting their feet under them and leaving and then we got more people that were directly affected by the event.”
Burch added that normal deliveries started coming back into hotels within a week of the hurricane, which was when business started getting back to a normalized state. Throughout the storm, reservation systems remained online, open and functioning as usual, he said.
After facing threats of Zika virus in parts of Florida a few years ago, the GMBHA partnered with the Miami central business district to create a hotel pledge, Kallergis said, and the deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County gave an update on mosquito-borne illnesses during a hurricane preparedness meeting.
The pledge encourages hotels to get rid of certain types of cups mosquitoes breed in and also has tips such as eliminating standing water in planters and making insect repellant available to guests at hotels.
“It’s nice that we have everything in place now,” Kallergis said. “We’re just talking the documents and changing the date (this year) to remind them to make sure they are mosquito-mitigating.”
When wildfires swept through California’s wine country in late 2017, Visit Napa Valley worked to communicate with hoteliers, locals and visitors to let people know the status of areas affected by the fires.
Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley, said no hotels reported structural damage, and only a few had smoke stains to clean up.
Visit Napa Valley’s homepage was turned into a resource for visitors, locals and the tourism business throughout the event, Gregory said.
“We updated the homepage in real time and added toolkits for tourism-related business,” he said via email. “… Lastly, but very helpful was that we kept our main welcome center open throughout the ordeal for the small number of visitors and the residents looking for help.”
Since December, “lodging revenue has been up every month over the last fiscal year,” Gregory said. The amount of time it took for hotels to get back online varied, but ranged from about February to April. All hotels are back online now, he added.
Gregory said that Visit Napa Valley is working on a “crisis communication plan that will be shared with all of our constituents once complete” to prepare for wildfires in the future.