By Kacey Bradley
No one relishes the thought of having a much-needed vacation destroyed by a hurricane, tornado or wildfire. For those in the hospitality business, natural disasters open the possibility of liability for guest injury. Advance planning on how to deal with natural disasters helps hoteliers avoid costly lawsuits as well as prevent loss of human life.
What must those in the hospitality industry do to ensure they maximize guest safety in the event of a disaster? These common-sense tips provide an excellent starting point for developing a comprehensive safety plan in the event catastrophe strikes.
Complete a Risk Assessment
The first step in any hotel or resort disaster plan involves performing a comprehensive risk assessment. This assessment must include both the consideration of risk factors beyond the hotelier's control, such as a rapidly spreading wildfire, and those property owners can control, such as providing adequate exit routes and stores of emergency response supplies.
Conscientious hoteliers should go over every inch of the property to identify potential hazards. Property managers can easily eliminate some issues, such as excessive scrub brush around hotel grounds. Eliminating other hazards, such as providing handicapped-accessible exit routes, may take a bit more of an investment of time and money.
Prepare Means of Communication
The best emergency disaster plan will fail if hotels cannot inform guests as to how they will be notified in the case of disaster. A solid communication plan starts at the hotel website's booking page. Smart hotel managers know that informing guests of refund options in the case of disaster saves money in the long run. Informing guests ahead of time about potential inclement weather allows them to rebook their trip.
Let guests know how the resort property will communicate with them should an unexpected natural disaster put a wrinkle in their travel plans. As evacuations allow little time for making multiple phone calls to guests, savvy hoteliers require guests to provide a cellphone number where they can receive a group text message in the event of an emergency.
Include Hazard Reduction in Property Upgrades
When preparing to refresh and update the hotel property, smart hotel owners pursue such upgrades with safety planning in mind. For example, hotels containing sliding glass doors leading to outdoor patio areas should select high-impact resistant glass or hurricane film. This not only protects guest safety, but it also ensures the hotel conforms to all local building codes.
Likewise, hotel remodels should include enough safety materials such as adequate fire extinguishers in guest areas. All hotels must include multiple exit routes and should indicate evacuation paths on the interior of all guest room doors. Providing adequate emergency lighting helps guests locate and navigate stairwells in case of a power outage.
Prepare for Staffing Issues
Nothing stresses hotel staff members like dealing with a disaster for which they've received no training. As hotel staff represents the first line of defense in getting guests to safety, all present and future employees should receive training on how to react in different emergency situations. Provide refresher courses on a regular basis to ensure all staff members know exactly what to do to help guests.
Hoteliers wishing to go the extra mile to ensure guest safety should require all staff members to earn their CPR and first-aid certifications. Contact a local branch of the American Red Cross to arrange for training times either at your facility or in a Red Cross classroom.
Polish Public Relations Now
Finally, all hoteliers do well to develop a strong relationship with local news and media outlets as a general business practice. Maintaining positive public relations matters both during and after a disaster.
During the disaster, use local media outlets to distribute news to incoming guests as to the condition of the hotel and the availability of lodging. Following a catastrophe such as a fire or a hurricane, hospitality professionals can distribute updates as to property repairs, safety and dates of reopening. Savvy hotel managers likewise utilize media outlets to inform the public as to property upgrades meant to ensure greater guest safety going forward.
No hotelier wants to imagine a natural disaster disrupting their business operations. However, recent events make it clear that failure to develop a plan for dealing with acts of God leaves hospitality professionals and hotel owners subject to potential liability. Preparing a solid plan for the unexpected saves both money and lives.