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 April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.