Braving the elements

By Shannon Copeland

Among the top worries that keep hospitality executives up at night is the threat of severe weather and its potential impact on guests, employees, property and other assets. Even those hotels and resorts with the best-laid plans are not protected when Mother Nature comes knocking.

We are entering the time of year when the likelihood of wildfires, lightning, heavy rain, tornadoes and tropical storms significantly increases, and so does hotel and resort occupancy. Record-breaking numbers of people are traveling now that COVID is no longer a concern; the phenomenon has taken on a viral term—revenge travel. Even so, hotels can go from sold out to empty in just a few days. All it takes is one significant weather event handled poorly.

It is prudent to have a plan in anticipation of severe weather and a protocol established for what to do in its aftermath.

Have a plan in place 

Nothing keeps hotel management on their toes like an impending storm or other severe weather threat. However, taking a few simple steps before the severe weather hits can save money and preserve peace of mind.

  • Staying informed: The top priority is to keep informed of weather alerts or warnings in the area. In addition to monitoring a reputable source for regular updates, partnering with a private weather service is emerging as a best practice in the industry. Having such a collaboration in place puts hotel/resort management in touch with trained meteorologists who can help guide them on how best to protect guests and property in the face of a severe weather threat.
  • Develop an emergency plan: Having and updating it regularly is imperative. The plan should outline the steps before, during and after a severe weather event. Go over the plan regularly with your team so everyone knows their specific role and how to communicate with other team members.
  • Secure the property: This goes without saying, but if you know that severe weather is coming, take time to safeguard the property to minimize potential damage. This includes boarding windows, securing outdoor furniture and removing any loose debris or objects that could become dangerous projectiles during high winds.
  • Ensure you have enough supplies: One of the worst-case scenarios is not having enough supplies to meet the needs of guests and employees during a severe weather event. Plan ahead to ensure you have plenty of water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, flashlights and batteries to last several days.
  • Back up essential data: Just as important as securing the property is securing your important data, which includes guest data, financial records, and insurance policies. Having these documents in a safe place will make it easier as you begin to account for any potential losses.

Mitigating losses after the storm

One of the first steps after a severe weather event is to assess the damage. You may get away relatively unscathed or you might sustain severe damage. Regardless of either scenario, there are a couple of things you can do to minimize your losses.

What follows a weather event is equally as important as the weather event itself because, if not handled properly, it could translate into thousands, if not millions, of dollars in lawsuits.

Avoiding costly litigation due to injuries sustained in a severe weather event is as easy as the phrase is short: Prevent injuries. Prevention strategies include:

  • Monitoring shuttle routes from the airport to the hotel.
  • Moving outdoor events to indoor spaces.
  • Keeping a close eye on outdoor amenities for any hidden dangers.

You can also mitigate profit loss by being flexible. While it can be tricky, it is doable. For example, instead of canceling reservations and issuing refunds, start making calls well before the severe weather event letting guests know they can re-book their reservation within a year. Better yet, advertise all relevant details on your website so you only get calls for credits on canceled stays instead of calls with endless questions that eat away at your precious time, especially when you should be securing your property and preparing your team.

Allowing guests to re-book their stay instead of getting their money back mitigates profit loss, builds credibility and encourages guests to book directly with you. If more guests book direct, less money is lost in commissions to third parties. It’s a win-win.

Exercising duty of care 

Duty of care is one of the most important principles in the lodging industry. Being knowledgeable about the weather is the first step in ensuring duty of care. Know what’s coming and the mitigation protocols and keep your employees in the loop. Be confident about activating and following your weather response and evacuation plans to protect life and property.

Shannon Copeland is an industry manager/meteorologist for StormGeo.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.