The 2017 Hurricane Season That Was: What We Learned

By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | June 24, 2018

Seventeen named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six Category 3 or stronger hurricanes swept through the Atlantic Basin in 2017, well above the 30-year average of 12 storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, Weather Channel data show. This placed 2017 among the top 10 most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University.

Three devastating hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – hit Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the surrounding Caribbean so hard that the impact of the storms is expected to be felt for many years to come. Harvey, alone, dumped 50 inches of water along the eastern coast of Texas and brought the region to a complete standstill along with catastrophic losses worth $75 billion. Tourist haven the Florida Keys took a direct hit from Irma, a storm so strong that at least 25 percent of the homes there were destroyed. Its losses could reach $83 billion. Maria, meanwhile, was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years. Dubbed a $95 billion storm, it resulted in hundreds of deaths and devastated the island's already fragile economy.

Hotels in the eye of all three of those hurricanes (and other storms) are back in business thanks to the savvy response by hoteliers and, in part, to insurance coverage secured well before the tempests ever hit. Hotels, though, weren't affected equally. Some never closed at all while others took months to deal with damages that rendered them inoperable. It's one thing for a hotel to reopen after calling in a crew do deal with a felled palm tree. It's a whole other matter when a roof is ripped away, nearby roads and bridges are ruined or in-house technical and operations systems have been destroyed.

Preparing to make the best of a bad situation

For the most part, the hotel industry was ready for the storms. Many of them, thanks to years of planning and an understanding of what each hurricane season may bring, were poised to put their emergency efforts into action days before the storms made landfall. They took proactive measures like procuring extra food, bringing in more generators and even having employees set up rooms in their homes for evacuees who couldn't find a spot at hotels or shelters.

The bulk of hotel properties in hurricane zones know the importance of establishing a successful working relationship with a trusted insurance partner to understand the best lines of coverage, not only to help keep the business up and running but to recover from property damages. The hotels that fared the best after the 2017 hurricanes understood their policies, coverages and deductibles before the storms ever made landfall. Their insurance agent was just a call away when the recovery work had to begin. Yet experts say there still are too many hotels that are unaware of what their policies cover or even exclude. Some specialty hotel insurers are able to hone in on the unique needs of a lodging business to offer solutions such as an all-lines insurance and risk management program for independent and boutique properties with added catastrophic capacity.

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Coming up in February 2019...

Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.