Handling a Crisis in the Social Media Era

By Didi Lutz President, Didi Lutz PR | May 06, 2010

Whether it was a guest who made a scene in the lobby, a random falling ladder by the elevator, noisy construction episodes bothering the community, a room fire or a property flood, or any act of terrorism, your hotel needs a plan to respond and handle the situation. As experts in hospitality, we understand the process of anticipating guests' needs and wants. Amidst daily operations and the focus on streamlining tasks and procedures, it is our duty to be responsible and anticipate the potential issues that cannot only impact the guest experience, but seriously compromise the safety of everyone on property.

Crisis management is the process that identifies, analyzes and suggests resolutions to real potential scenarios that can affect your hotel. Your PR agency and/or professional should be part of this process and must be involved at an Executive Committee level. The first step to successful crisis management is to create a simplified yet thorough crisis handbook that will be distributed to each department head.

Until a couple of years ago, traditional approaches to crises worked well. The handbook pretty much covered the issues, and the possible scenarios as they affected the property. Your PR team was proactive and updated it every 10 to 12 months or so. Now, everything has changed. With the economy on the way to recovery, the dynamics, and the communications vehicles have changed. We've officially entered the Era of Social Networking and there's no turning back. Hospitality as an industry, appears to be hesitant to immerse itself in social media, but in the past few months this has changed.

A tactical approach to hotel crisis management is still they way to go, I think. A crisis handbook should be completely rewritten from the perspective of internet media and Web 2.0. Twitter and Facebook are part of any PR person's checklist, and don't forget the myriads of blogs out there that post news and comments every minute of the day. When a crisis hits, it's important to remember how fast the news will spread and at a much faster rate than it did just five years ago. It is therefore important to understand the concept of social media, but to also appreciate their practicality and power.

Here is one thing that remains unchanged in a crisis situation: you are on track to resolving a crisis when you begin containing the problem/issue. Traditionally, the most effective way to do that is to tell all and be truthful. While a crisis management strategy can be very involved and complex for each property, some general aspects that should be included in a crisis handbook include the following:

  • Draft four or five talking points, depending on the severity and complexity of the issue. Talking points should be clear, concise and straightforward, so that they leave little room for doubt or discussion.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.