By Matt Tutt
With this year’s Atlantic hurricane season being one of the 10 most active hurricane seasons on record (14 named storms and 8 hurricanes), combined with the devastating earthquakes in Mexico, the hotel industry in these affected areas have taken a serious hit—both physically through damage to their properties and financially through the loss of bookings.
The Miami Herald reported that hotels in Miami-Dade were only 42 percent full between Sep 6 and 9, nearly 38% less than the same time last year. Tourism to Caribbean islands in the hurricane belt, whose islands experienced some of the worst damage, may take even longer to recover. According to the U.S. Travel Association, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could see a $5 billion drop in travel spending, especially since many hotels suffered extensive damage and can no longer take reservations for an extended period of time.
Now that the tourism industry is in recovery mode, the main goal is getting business back to normal as fast as possible. Rebuilding is going to be a top priority for hotels that suffered physical damage, but it’s important that you also maintain your hotel’s digital presence during recovery so that your online visibility doesn’t suffer when it comes time to take bookings again. Here are some tips to mitigating the digital impact of natural disasters.
Announcing temporary closures online
If you have to close your hotel for an extended period of time for repairs or renovations, you’ll want to publicly announce your closure so that potential guests are not confused, but also avoid being marked as “permanently closed” within listing sites such as Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, and TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor has explicit instructions on how to mark your business as temporarily closed due to natural disasters or renovation, using their Management Center to update the description.
Unfortunately sites like Google My Business don’t allow businesses to easily mark themselves “temporarily closed.” However, there are a few key workarounds and steps you can take to get the message across, especially on Google.
Update your website with relevant information on the homepage (not in a pop-up). First and foremost, the information surrounding any temporary closures and bookings will need to be posted to your hotel’s existing homepage as an update. Do not replace your existing content with a temporary page or message. This is a big SEO no-no.
Add special hours to your business listing. This is the main workaround that Google promotes. It’s not ideal, as it’s more intended to showcase closures for holidays and special circumstances, but right now it’s one of their top options.
Create a post on Google My Business. The search engine now allows you add an announcement that will show up when someone searches for your business on Google search and Google Maps. Search Engine Land has a great explanation with step-by-step instructions on how to do this for your business. Keep in mind though that the posts are temporary and expire after 7 days, so you will need to add new posts continually.
Example of posts on Google My Business (Source: Search Engine Land)
Get the attention of a top contributor on Google My Business Forum. If you anticipate being closed for an extended period of time, it might be worth escalating your situation to someone at Google. Local search expert Mike Blumenthal explains that Google appears to now partially supporting temporary closures (publicly listing businesses as “temporarily closed”), but only for businesses closed for more than 2 weeks and have it already clearly posted on their website. There is no interface to do this; right now the suggested method is to create a post on the My Business Forum explaining your situation and getting one of the top contributors to escalate the situation.
Temporarily not accepting reservations
One of the first things that hotels often do when facing extensive property damage is to adjust their PMS and CRS to not accept any reservations for an extended period of time. This reflects in the booking engine as simply “No Availability” for those dates but does not accurately explain the situation.
It’s important that not accepting reservations also be accompanied with an explanation of why, so that potential guests are not confused by the lack of availability in your booking engine. Reach out to your booking engine provider to see if they can add a message to the booking engine itself to explain the temporary closure, and also make sure that your hotel website also has the situation regarding bookings clearly posted on the homepage and any other key landing pages.
This is also a good chance to engage guests even though they can’t book. You can redirect them to your hotel blog or social media accounts to show posts about the hotel’s rebuild or recovery, or set up a pop-up that asks for the guest’s email so that they can be the first to know when the hotel is accepting bookings again.
Maintaining your organic search rankings during closure
During a rebuild or renovation, hotels should do their best not to let their website become dormant during this period. With less people visiting your site because of closure, and with no updated content on a regular basis, search engines may slowly start to demote your ranking.
Instead, use your recovery situation as an opportunity to regularly update your hotel website. If you have a hotel blog, for example, you can create posts showcasing your hotel’s rebuild, or highlight extraordinary employees that have been working to get things up and running again.
You can also run content showcasing the local neighborhood recovery. Work together with local businesses in the area to create content that promotes one another and highlights how the area is getting back on its feet. Link to other companies’ content and have them link to yours—this cross-linking benefits all businesses and can help keep your search rankings strong.
And lastly, don’t forget to use social media to help amplify the message. Use your Facebook or Instagram page or Twitter account to share updates to your followers. You’ll want your best fans to be the first to know when you’re back up and running again!
Communicating with your guests and asking for reviews
The longer that your hotel goes without reviews, the more likely your hotel will start dropping in ranking from key review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, and Google. During a temporary closure this can affect your hotel’s online visibility as you don’t have new guests to remind about reviews. So this is an opportunity to rally old guests to help out.
An email asking old guests to leave reviews during this time can help maintain the consistency while you’re in this recovery period. The timing is key—you want a consistent flow of reviews, so don’t blast everyone at the same time.
Use segmentations of your marketing list, tailoring the message to specific guests based on their region and how recently they stayed. You’d be surprised at how many people have yet to leave you an online review—even more so, guests who’ve only left feedback on one platform. This is the ideal time to reach out and to try and build more of a relationship with your guests, especially considering how important they’re going to be to you as you start rebuilding your property.
Be prepared for any natural disaster
Every natural disaster is another reminder to be even more prepared for the next. As hotels beef up their crisis management plans in preparation for the next big event (which hopefully won’t come), consider creating a “digital crisis plan” with a checklist of things to do in case of closure. This will help your hotel management team execute the above tips quickly and efficiently, so that you can focus on the biggest picture of getting the property repaired, restored, and ready for guests again.