Luxury Hotel Executives Share Lessons Learned After Hurricane


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It’s not whether you get knocked down, but how you stand up that matters. Not only do hospitality teams have the ability to provide clients with shelter and stability, but they can extend their impact across their local communities by highlighting the strength and potential of our industry to be a force for good.

Samantha Shankman, Skift

More than a month has passed since storms such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria began their destructive journeys across the United States and the Caribbean, causing damage estimated at $ 188 billion or more. .

As Skift travel journalist Dan Peltier wrote last month, American and Caribbean destinations were quick to launch marketing campaigns encouraging visitors to come back and leverage social media to chronicle events. recovery progress made in recent weeks.

Luxury hotels were also eager to welcome new guests and a semblance of normalcy once the worst storm had passed. This is still not possible in some areas. Hospitality teams traditionally dedicated to exceeding their clients’ expectations have returned to basics where basic safety and comfort come before five-star luxury.

With repair and normalcy slowly returning to many of their operations, Skift spoke with luxury property executives to find out what’s going on in disaster preparedness, how they take care of customers and what lessons they have learned. learned from experience.

Clear communication

Communication is of course the first line of defense for any team in such dynamic and unpredictable situations.

Each of the hotel staff we spoke to regularly goes through a series of measurements before the storm season. Team members test generator sets and check fuel supplies, ensure adequate food and water supplies, ensure medical supply kits are well stocked, and establish a safe (and comfortable) shelter with games, movies, rest areas and Internet access. Comfort is considered an important element in weathering a storm in these properties.

The following staff are trained and must not only communicate, but also convey a sense of calm to customers.

“Our teams know how to help customers and stay calm while providing the most recent information. Communication is shared in several formats, including verbally, letters to rooms, emails or calls to advise of cancellations, ”explained Lisa Cole and Karla Visconti, communications directors for Hilton for the South East region. from the United States and Latin America.

“At times like these, it’s very important for leaders to exercise emotional control, stay calm, stay approachable and alert, adjusting communication plans as needed to cope with the changing landscape.

Several of Hilton’s luxury hotels were hit by storms last month, including Casa Marina and The Reach in Key West; Waldorf Astoria Orlando and Boca Raton Resort as well as El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf Astoria resort – one of nine Hilton properties in Puerto Rico.

Internal communication within the hotel and the local community is as vital as communication with guests during this time.

“We called the hotel team twice a day as well as the regional management team to discuss the current state of the hotel,” says Dennis Doherty, resident manager of the hotel. Houston Marriott Marquis. Doherty was at the hotel during the entire hurricane.

“We used radio communication for on-site employees and had an emergency channel for key members of the response team to monitor. Daily email communication also took place as updates became available.

Community support

Due to their level of preparedness and access to resources, luxury hotels often serve their local communities in the aftermath of such storms.

“We worked closely with 33 affected employees to make sure they had housing, clothing, food and providing ongoing support,” Doherty says.

In Puerto Rico, El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, provided shelter not only for stranded guests, but also for staff and their families.

“Our priority is the safety and security of our guests and team members, and after the storm, we focus on their comfort and on minimizing any effect on them. In some cases, after the storms, hotels continued to accommodate team members, others took in evacuees and first responders, ”Cole and Visconti explain.

A TripAdvisor review published after Hurricane Irma shows how, by opening doors to the local community, hotels can do good and improve their guests’ stay at the same time.

“Staff went out of their way to keep order during the hurricane preparation. Although the weather was getting worse and worse, they did everything possible to ensure the safety of customers and in full control of the situation. I would also like to commend the administration of the El Conquistador complex for having the compassion to not only allow their staff to take refuge in the complex during the hurricane, but also allow them to bring their families to stay safe on the property “, writes TripAdvisor user Julius F.

“This gesture alone not only made us feel more secure, but it showed a side of the corporate world that we usually don’t see, I was absolutely delighted to know that the staff felt our location was safe enough for their own families. “

El Conquistador closed to arrivals after the storm but remains open with limited services to meet needs associated with reconstruction efforts such as housing for first responders and aid workers.

Lessons learned

This isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time these destinations and hospitality teams face destruction – the antithesis of the elegance of comfort they represent – but each experience brings new lessons. .

“While we have never experienced a shortage of supplies, it was essential to limit food and beverage services and housekeeping during the storm to ensure that we could continuously serve our customers to the highest standard possible,” Doherty says.

“A key learning is to always veer on the safe side. We take care of people and it’s something we take very seriously – anyway. “

As for properties unaffected by storms, the situation brings its own reminders of humility and cooperation.

Mustique is a private Caribbean island located further south than where most storms occurred. Although its pristine beaches and accommodations have not been affected by the storm, stakeholders are sensitive to their messages.

“Due to the devastation and sensitivities of the recovery program in the northern islands, we have not openly communicated our well-being and our willingness to accept visitors. However, we continue to welcome guests ”, Roger Pritchard, Managing Director of The Mosquito Company, noted.

“We are doing our best to accommodate all travelers who had planned trips to the affected islands and are now looking for alternative arrangements.”


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