June 9, 2022 · Pete DiMaio

Disaster Planning Communications Guide For Hotels

You may have heard about the 6 P’s, “Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

Regardless of where you apply the 6Ps, they will always lead you to success. For the purposes of this article, and from a hoteliers perspective, the 6 P’s mean your property should have a clear plan for times of a trouble. In a disaster you will not have time to think creatively and properly address the situation. You must create a comprehensive plan before disaster strikes.

Your property likely already has a well-crafted operational disaster plan detailing exactly what and when the staff goes into action to prepare your hotel.  You already have redundancies for power, security, and so on. Therefore we will not go into detail on any operational level disaster planning. Instead we will look at what you need to do from a marketing  and communications perspective.

This guide provides hoteliers both inside and outside the disaster zone a starting point to build their own unique marketing and communications plan. Every hotel location is unique and your plan must also be unique. Most importantly, your plan must be created in advance so you can enact it at a moments notice.  Also, note that while your property may be in the impact zone of a disaster this time, next time it may be outside the zone.  This means you must produce a plan for both scenarios.

To go along with the 6 P’s we have 6 areas you need to prepare. This hotel disaster planning guide will consist of the following:

  • On Site Content
  • Email Communications
  • Social Communications
  • PPC for Hotels and Hotel Metasearch Management
  • PR Outreach
  • Guest and Community Assistance

As a hotelier your job is to help others and be hospitable, your disaster communications/marketing plan should be based on being empathetic to your guests and those in trouble.  Everything you communicate should be from a helping perspective.  This includes being flexible with your policies.  In times of a disaster you want your guests to know your pet policy is flexible, your cancellation policy is flexible, your check out times are flexible.  By being a great member of your community you can come through disaster stronger and more resilient then ever before.

During a disaster, your job is not to sell rooms or capitalize on the event, your job is to help your guests and community. You are a servant.

On Site Content

Any plan you have for a disaster absolutely must start with content.  I can attest first hand that during most hurricanes on the east coast the only thing in shorter supply than cases of water and gasoline was accurate information.   As a hotel you have the ability to provide invaluable information that can help both people inside and outside of an impact area.  For this content to be most effective, you should have a plan and start producing before disaster strikes.  This includes a plan as well as content shells that can easily be updated with real-time information.

In addition to planning for content to be produced in advance, you should also plan for how you will update content continually through the event.  One lesson we learned from countless hurricanes is updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok etc are great, but in some cases you need longer form content or content that can be linked to.  This doesn’t always work when strictly relying on social to get the job done.  Regardless of if you are in or out of a disaster zone, assign a person to ensure updates are made.  Assign a backup person as well should the primary person not be available.

In Disaster Zone: Content

  • Set home page alerts to conditions
  • If possible, set alerts and notifications during the booking process
  • Create a “current conditions” page which has a running list of updates and corrections.
  • Information for guests, both staying at the property and arriving shortly thereafter
  • Post-event status report article or page
  • How your property is helping the community
  • Updates and live feeds, if possible, for your area

Outside Disaster Zone: Content

  • Community outreach to the impacted areas
  • Room availability for guests
  • Assistance links for FEMA, Red Cross, and others
  • Room information for first responders and repair/recovery crews
  • How your property can help evacuees.  Can you be “pet friendly” for a week, can you alter your cancellation/check in/check out policies?

Email Communications

Spend time in your marketing and communications disaster planning to craft several email templates for the emergencies you might experience around your hotel.  These may be hurricanes and floods to earthquakes and fires.  Your goal here is to ensure you know what you need to send and have the templates for each.  Often times email is not going to be the first choice of communications for those impacted by a disaster (social feeds, text messages, and news sites being more relevant), email still holds a very valuable place in the communications tool chest.

Where email is most effective is in terms of direct, personalized, communications to guests.  Your email plan should be designed to drive visitors to the content you created in the above section, provide specific stay updates, and offer help and news to those impacted.

In Disaster Zone: Email

If you’re unfortunate enough to be in the disaster zone, email will be a critical communications tool to reach all your guests and fans.  We recommend you have the following, created in advance:

  • Pre-event alerts to incoming guests
  • During-event message with assurances you will take care of guests and how they can get more information from you (social, site, etc)
  • Post-event message to your full database with conditions and property status (are you open for business?)

Outside Disaster Zone: Email

Please be very careful with disaster emails if you are outside a disaster area.  You don’t want to appear opportunistic.  Your goal is to do what you do as a hotelier… be helpful and hospitable.

  • Share what your hotel is doing to help those inside the disaster zone.
  • Ensure that your guests and subscribers know your property is outside disaster zone.  An example to this from a local perspective is many people think Myrtle Beach is in North Carolina, when it is in South Carolina.
  • Create an environment where you can help those in need.  This can include targeting subscribers inside a disaster zone with helpful information such room discounts, free services, etc.

Social Campaigns and Communication Management

Your social communications plan is probably the most important aspect of any disaster preparedness plan.  Your guest and community will be constantly refreshing their feeds, searching the appropriate hashtags, and looking for updates.  This is where you can deliver for your audience by becoming a hub for both shared and created content.  For this to succeed you will need to have your team ready to act when trouble is on the horizon.  This also means that you need to build your fan base and interactions in advance so people will know who to turn to in times of disaster.  Start now by building your community, so you can help them when needed.

In Disaster Zone: Social Management

  • Consider pausing any paid social campaigns running.  You may be able to get traffic, but you are not likely to get any bookings.  Don’t waste money chasing conversions that simply don’t exist.
  • Have a plan to post very frequently.
  • Engage with local news sources to spread reports.
  • Share updates constantly; photos, live video, links, etc.
  • Answer every question you possibly can.
  • Keep the facts and absolutely never speculate or feed misinformation.

Outside Disaster Zone: Social Management

  • First and foremost, be helpful.
  • Do not position yourself as to appear opportunistic.
  • Report the facts and only the facts.
  • Share how you are helping and contribute to the solution.
  • Do something, physically do something, to help the community.

PPC And Meta Search Campaign Management

One of the most common mistakes we see in times of disaster, is hotels driving paid traffic to their sites when they can’t realistically take bookings.  Part of your emergency marketing plan must include how you, or your agency, manages both paid PPC and Meta search.

It is critical to proactively manage (and possibly disable) your campaigns. We can attest to this first hand. In one specific example, a property lost power during an event, which in-turn caused their PMS to stop sending ARI (availability, rate, inventory) to the meta engines.  As a result, TripAdvisor suspended their campaign and it took more than two days after the event to resume service.  In that time other hotels in the area were able to capitalize on reduced competition.

Your property should have this plan in advance and not having a plan will severely impact your paid business. The good thing is this plan can be quite simple.

In Disaster Zone: PPC & Meta Management

  • Make a decision in advance of when your property should discontinue any paid search campaigns. Typically this will be just before a storm or disaster strikes.
  • Have a plan to communicate with your agency for when to pause your campaign.  Just as important, make sure your team knows when to turn a campaign back on.
  • Assign someone on staff, or with your agency, to own the decision. Furthermore, ensure that person you knows to restart your campaign at the appropriate time.
  • Be very careful buying event-related terms.  You will either appear to be opportunistic, or more likely just be wasting money.

Outside Disaster Zone: PPC & Meta Management

  • If your property is outside the disaster zone there is not much your team will need to do.
  • Monitor closely to determine if your max bids, budgets, or campaign strategies need to be adjusted.
  • Use caution in your campaign management to avoid being opportunistic.

Guest and Community Assistance

Hoteliers have a responsibility to be leaders and stewards of the community and at no time is this more important than in a disaster.  Whether your property is inside or outside of an impact area, you should have a plan to help those in need when the time comes.  This part of your plan is going to differ significantly based on where your property is in relation to a disaster and if it has sustained damage.

Monitor the community needs and be ready to pivot to either lead, or be a part of recovery and assistance efforts.

In Disaster Zone: Community Assistance

  • Open your doors as much as possible to the community.
  • What can you offer in terms of discounts to victims?
  • Can you offer free water and/food to those in need?
  • How can you care for your employees?
  • How can you organize your community during recovery?

Outside Disaster Zone: Community Assistance

Being out side of a disaster zone is always preferable to being inside, though it does come with the responsibility to lend a hand to those in need.

  • Help organize supplies and needs.
  • Providing housing solutions for rescuers and victims.
  • Again, doing something is always better than not.  One lesson from the floods after Hurricane Florence several years ago was the massive number of people who wanted to help, but there was a lack of leaders to channel that desire into action.

Inside or outside of a disaster, you should be flexible and ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice. Be the leader and beacon of hope for your community.

Public Relations Outreach

PR is an important part of your disaster communications plan.  Regardless of if you are in the path of a disaster or on the outskirts your PR campaign will be very similar.

  • Build relationships with your local media now, before a disaster strikes.
  • Ensure you have a single point person for media contacts.  This is incredibly important and helps your organization speak in a single voice and prevent mis-information.
  • Have a plan for how you can help the media with their job, this includes accommodations, shot locations, interviews, etc.
  • Clearly document your emergency procedures for both your internal team and to share with the media.
  • Clearly document how you are helping your community in times of need.  You don’t want to have a “hey look at me!” attitude, but you do want to document and share what you are doing.  Doing good is contagious and you may just start a wave of good deeds.

Forbes Magazine has a very comprehensive article on The 13 Golden Rules Of PR Crisis Management.  This is a great read and an important primer for any type of crisis you may face, be it natural disaster or just a business snafu. Forbes also reminds us of the 5 “A’s” Of A PR Crisis:

  • Assess. Calmly, despite the stress, identify the issue and determine the best course of action.
  • Admit. If you were at fault (or worse, lying) admit the transgression quickly and directly
  • Address. Specifically address what you are admitting and apologizing for.  Don’t mince words, be direct and succinct.
  • Atone. Make right what you made wrong.  Detail out your plan to ensure (1) you fix the issue and (2) layout out plan for it to not happen again.
  • Adapt. Move on a better person or company.  It’s time to begin repairing and rebuilding you social capital

In Conclusion

When your hotel or resort faces a natural disaster, you will fall into one of four categories: a victim, a rescuer, a bystander, or an opportunist.  By having a clear plan of how you can help your community and your guests will ensure whether you face a big or small disaster you’ll be positioned to be a rescuer.

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