No one wants to imagine a crisis happening at their workplace — a fire, terror attack or power outage — but should the worst happen, preparation is the only way to minimise the impact. However, the difficulties faced by hotels are different to those faced by office-based businesses outside of the hospitality industry. High staff turnover, shift work as opposed to the standard “9–5” and the potential for painful financial impact following a PR disaster brings a particular set of challenges for hoteliers preparing an emergency plan.
One of the most infamous crises in the hotel industry was the attack on three women in the Cumberland Hotel in 2014, when Philip Spence was able to enter the hotel and the guests’ rooms and attack them with a hammer. During the trial, lawyers alleged: “The hotel was in breach of its duty of care to guests and failed to operate a security system that would protect against foreseeable risks.” During his evidence, Spence told the jury that he regularly sneaked into the Cumberland Hotel to look for food and a place to sleep, and was described by his accomplice as a “hotel creeper.”
This horrific incident is every hotelier and hotel guest’s worst nightmare, and a stark reminder of the importance of security and an emergency plan. Hotels have a duty to protect not only their guests, but also their staff, and a hotel chain head office will want evidence that you could account for all of your staff during an incident. Central city hotels also have to consider how to react to terrorist and cyber attacks that could knock out their systems. Crisis preparation needs to be a priority and not a post-crisis reaction.
How effective is your communication?
Training is essential to ensure staff react quickly and correctly to communicate any perceived threat. There is no greater security resource than the vigilance of a hotel’s staff, but if housekeeping spot a suspicious package on the fourth floor, how quickly will the front office know about it? How quickly can your security team stop people from leaving or entering? If you have to evacuate the building, will you still be able to get in touch quickly with all of your staff?
It is of the utmost importance that staff are able to communicate quickly and simply. Should a crisis occur during a shift change, staff on their way to the hotel need to informed and advised. Employers need to be able to check that staff across the whole site are safe, and this needs to be done rapidly.
As well as communication with staff, the most effective crisis management will include external communication with first responders. Being able to alert police, fire or ambulance services as soon as possible can minimise casualties and show the public (who may well be tweeting your every move) a situation being swiftly dealt with and under control.
Have you got a plan that is ready to go?
Having a formal plan is absolutely essential in a crisis. Your protocols, policies and procedures should be all in one place and must form a key part of training new staff. But they are no good kept buried under paperwork in a filing cabinet, they have to be immediately to hand and the best solution is when they are preinstalled in an App on phones.
Simplicity is key: in a crisis, people’s vision narrows and it is easy to lose your normal cool judgement under pressure. Having a clear set of instructions, on hand and readily available, will help your team effectively manage a dangerous situation.
Although writing up a comprehensive emergency plan can be an an onerous task, there are plenty of consultants that can help and templates are available online to get started.
How will you manage the impact on your hotel’s reputation?
The most popular hotels in London have over a thousand reviews on TripAdvisor alone, and as more and more people choose their accommodation based on reviews from such apps, a hotel can live or die by its reputation.
Should a crisis happen, your response to it will either create an impression of panicked incompetency or efficient professionalism. Clear and quick communication will mean that all staff are able to appear authoritative and informed, which will in turn help guests feel reassured that everything is under control. Should the press appear, staff need to know the protocol and, if pushed, what to say in order to reassure everyone that the situation is being handled.
Likewise, make sure you have a social media crisis policy, detailing how staff should respond to the inevitable attention a crisis will receive on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. There are proven benefits to “controlling the message” and keeping social media posts by staff to a minimum, but you could also decide to use these channels to reach out to the public with information and reassurance. In the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, The Fairmont Copley Plaza responded to each and every tweet directed at the hotel to confirm the safety of staff and guests.
A crisis has happened and been dealt with: what have you learned?
No plan is ever perfect, and no crisis ever perfectly matches the scenarios we plan for. Agility is therefore the key to minimising the impact of a crisis. Systems and communication tools have to allow a degree of improvisation while still rooted in the structure of the original plan, and any deviation from the plan needs to be communicated to all staff as fast as possible.
It is also crucial to keep reviewing your policies at least annually and to re-train staff regularly. Post crisis analysis is essential so, if the worst has happened, you need analytical tools to aid the process of reviewing how you dealt with it. Did everyone know what to do? How quickly did staff react? What could have been done better? Best practice is that you have systems in place that have recorded the events and communications. For chain hotels, head office will want to see how an incident was handled.
Making it known that an investigation and review has taken place after the incident is another way to bolster a hotel’s reputation, showing the world that safety is paramount.
With the UK’s terror threat level at “severe,” hoteliers have both a moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety of guests and staff is the highest priority. In the words of Warren Buffet, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” A hotel runs on its reputation. Effective crisis management planning is the best way to ensure that, if the worst should happen, all the stakeholders — owners, managers, staff and valued guests — will be protected by your foresight.
Yudu Sentinel is an App based crisis communication platform for the management of fire, terrorist and cyber attacks, or any other critical incidents. Crisis managers have immediate access to an independent two-way communication (SMS, voice, email and in app messaging) and can view key documents on mobiles. Sentinel is a cutting edge crisis management tool. Find out more at http://www.yudu.com/do/notification/sentinel or contact us on Twitter @YUDU.