Why Disaster Resilience is Important to Your Hotel Organization

First in a four-part series exploring disaster resilience in the hotel sector

By Nancy Brown PhD Candidate, Joint Centre for Disaster Research | March 24, 2019

The global tourism is on the rise, and with these gains come increased people exposed to local and global vulnerabilities. No location is isolated from events experienced by others, the system's interdependencies increase as the sector continues to grow (Hall, Prayag, & Amore, 2018). A few examples of interdependencies include disease outbreaks, economic slowdowns, and threats from terrorism (AlBattat & Mat Som, 2014; Chien & Law, 2003). Travelers are canceling, or altering, travel plans to a destination when no unusual risk exists have emerged due to increased traditional and non-traditional media influence (Raymond, 2018).

Hotels remain dependent on reputational influences of not only their organization; the region, and partners, where they do business can play a role in disrupting business patterns (Raymond, 2018). Opportunities to upset the fragile travel system continues to expand as environmental systems and human systems interact on ever growing scales.

It is because of this interconnectedness and system dependencies that resilience becomes a key player in managerial concepts for the future. Resilience invests in flexibility and resources for your organization that can be leveraged and combined to solve predictable, and unpredictable, problems. Resilience looks at the multiple aspects of organizations: this includes elements that range from physical building construction to staff engagement; organizations' short term and long term visions, as well as staffing challenges; their leadership flexibility and redundancies as well as other business continuity components (Brown, Orchiston, Rovins, Feldmann-Jensen, & Johnston, 2018; Cutter et al., 2008; Dahles & Susilowati, 2015; Lee, Vargo, & Seville, 2013). Resilience includes familiar concepts, for example emergency preparedness, but picks up where emergency preparedness leaves off; resilience building leans in to the future problems we cannot yet imagine.

These are some of the reasons why resilience has become the buzz word in so many conversations surrounding disasters and disaster management. Events taking on disastrous proportions overwhelm local systems, by definition (Mileti, 1999). If an event didn't require outside assistance to withstand, respond, and recover chances are no one heard of the incident that was not directly involved. Emergency response organizations need disaster affected people, and organizations, to have their own resources to draw on; these agencies recognize they cannot be all things to all people.

From a hotel perspective, an organization's ability to keep staff and guests safe, and get back to business could affect more than just a single location. The skill, or lack there-of, in which an event is handled can cause reputation damage to the organization, or even the larger region. Fatalities in a disaster draw media attention and investigation. Families often look to place blame, sometimes on hotels. In the 2004 tsunami in Phuket, Thailand 200 guests died at a five star hotel on the beach. Families of the deceased filed suit accusing the hotel chain of not considering the risk of tsunami adequately and failing to protect guests (Garcia et al., 2006). This law suit was repeated in the media causing potential reputational harm to the whole company, and continuing headlines of negative news for the Thailand destination.

Hotels have different challenges from other tourism partners. While tour operators and airline partners provide essential linked services, hotels offer a home away from home to guests who may not be familiar with the local hazards and may have no idea of the appropriate actions to take when disaster strikes. Hotels welcome families, business travelers, and adventures, striving to provide services to increase the guests' enjoyment of their trip. When disaster strikes guests expect their accommodation provider to assist them, advise them, and provide the needed resources to withstand whatever happens (Drabek, 1997).

More and more a hotels ability to care for its staff and guests in a disaster is being blended into corporate social responsibility as an imperative (Dobie, Schneider, Kesgin, & Lagiewski, 2018; Henderson, 2007). Evaluation of a properties disaster resilience and work towards building resources allows hotels to recognize their strength -s that can contribute to withstanding disaster - and to understand gaps that may provide significant gains in resilience. The approach is a whole of community approach that integrates all stakeholders to find links and connections that will be valuable in a disaster. Disaster resilience building is a new way of analysing old issues in the hotel sector.

Disaster Resilience Defined

Resilience has been explored from a number of view points, including engineering, ecology, psychology, and organizational perspectives (Folke et al., 2002; Lee et al., 2013; Martin-Breen & Anderies, 2011). Defining resilience has been challenging because resilience can have varied nuances based on who is being resilience to what (Cutter et al., 2008). Resilient organizations recover from adversity and thrive in a new normal environment (Dahles & Susilowati, 2015), leveraging resources which include both structural and human capacities to create forward momentum (Cutter et al., 2008).

Resilience to disaster is not a case of bouncing back to where you started. The disaster is likely to have caused changes that make a return to the prior environment either impossible or undesirable. The disastrous event will require adaptation and adjustments to move forward and to insure future resilience. One trait of resilience is the organization constantly questions assumptions (Lee et al., 2013). Resilient organizations have the capacity for innovation and adaptation (Dahles & Susilowati, 2015).

An example of resilience is found in Hong Kong hotels during the 2003 SARS outbreak (Lo, Cheung, & Law, 2007). Many adaptations were required to get through declines of as much as 80% decline in tourism (Chien & Law, 2003). Hotels adopted new cleaning process for lobby and elevator spaces. One hotel explored new ways to utilize staff and empty rooms as temporary office space to generate income (Lo et al., 2007). Many of the stop gap adaptation have become part of doing business in the new normal environment.

In the case of hotels, disaster resilience may mean adapting a business service model to suit a new clientele as response workers flood into an area. Hotels often have large hierarchical structures that make flexibility and adaption slow to achieve (Brown, Rovins, Feldmann-Jensen, Orchiston, & Johnston, 2017). Resilience thinking provides pre-event considerations to a variety of ideas that can make actions and reactions smoother in a post disaster response and recovery (Brown et al., 2017).

Disaster resilience for hotels is defined as, "A dynamic condition describing the capacity of a hotel, together with its stakeholders, to assess, innovate, adapt, and overcome possible disruptions that may be triggered by disaster" (Brown et al., 2017, p. 363). This definition does not describe an ultimate goal, resilience is an ongoing process, which requires regular scanning, monitoring, and evaluation to recognize emerging risks and resources that can be leveraged to withstand, and overcome future events.

The Benefits of Building Resilience

Hotel operators are busy. Responding to daily requirements of maintaining the operations, and devising ways to enhance the bottom line is more than a full-time job. So, is resilience building an activity busy hotel executives should prioritize? First, consider this, disaster will happen. At some point in the future most business will be disrupted by outside forces, be it natural hazards or other threats (Hall et al., 2018). Your organization will need to withstand, respond, and adapt to existing potential disruptions, and perhaps new an unknown events. Threats to the tourism multiplex are not just possible, they are inevitable. So every organization needs a strategy to be able to adapt… to whatever comes next.

Beyond the improved adaptive capacities and resources to leverage, resilience building may benefit your organization in unpredictable ways. Identifying and building resources within your organization may link previously siloed departments. These linkage can in turn improved interdepartmental communications, and ultimately result in gains in guest service. Stakeholder involvement can also identify hidden problems that can be resolved before an issue arises. For example, data back-up processes, chain of command considerations, and standard practices may have tweaks that could provide benefits to overall operations. As organizations develop resilience they refine and define vital aspects of their businesses, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change".

As will be discussed in the next of this series, resilience building activities can be done incrementally. Building resilience is not an all or nothing proposition. As time and resources allow, small changes can add to the resilience of your organization. Emergency preparedness is just a part of resilience building; managers can delegate or supervise many resilience building activities as part of staff training or enrichment. Organization social events can be used to build resilience. Staff induction can be a resilience tool. Guest communications can be a resilience tool. Your operation already has many features and characteristics that can enhance your disaster resilience. The key is to modernize your approach and start thinking of new methods to develop solutions.

The next in this series will provide details of the Disaster Resilience Framework for Hotels (DRFH). This framework describes predictors of resilience and suggests ways to measure different resilience factors. The DRFH is an opportunity to evaluate your organization's resilience and consider ways to build new strengths.



AlBattat, A. R., & Mat Som, A. P. (2014). Emergency planning and disaster recovery in Malaysian hospitality industry. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Brown, N. A., Orchiston, C., Rovins, J. E., Feldmann-Jensen, S., & Johnston, D. (2018). An integrative framework for investigating disaster resilience within the hotel sector.

Brown, N. A., Rovins, J. E., Feldmann-Jensen, S., Orchiston, C., & Johnston, D. (2017). Exploring disaster resilience within the hotel sector: A systematic review of literature.

Chien, G. C. L., & Law, R. (2003). The impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on hotels: A case study of Hong Kong. International Journal of Hospitality Management.

Cutter, S. L., Barnes, L., Berry, M., Burton, C., Evans, E., Tate, E., & Webb, J. (2008). A place-based model for understanding community resilience to natural disasters. Global Environmental Change.

Dahles, H., & Susilowati, T. P. (2015). Business resilience in times of growth and crisis. Annals of Tourism Research.

Dobie, S., Schneider, J., Kesgin, M., & Lagiewski, R. (2018). Hotels as Critical Hubs for Destination Disaster Resilience: An Analysis of Hotel Corporations' CSR Activities Supporting Disaster Relief and Resilience. Infrastructures.

Drabek, T. E. (1997). Understanding tourists during disaster. Australian Journal of Emergency Management.

Folke, C., Carpenter, S., Elmqvist, T., Gunderson, L., Holling, C., & Walker, B. (2002). Resilience and sustainable development: Building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations. AMBIO: A journal of the human environment.

Garcia, R., Lau, S. S.-Y., Chau, K. W., Kanitpun, R., Shimatsu, Y., Grunder, P., . . . Baharuddin. (2006). Sustainable resorts: learning from the 2004 tsunami. Disaster Prevention and Management.

Hall, C. M., Prayag, G., & Amore, A. (2018). Tourism and resilience: Individual, organisational, and destination perspectives. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.

Henderson, J. C. (2007). Corporate social responsibility and tourism: Hotel companies in Phuket, Thailand, after the Indian Ocean tsunami. International Journal of Hospitality Management.

Lee, A. V., Vargo, J., & Seville, E. (2013). Developing a tool to measure and compare organizations' resilience. Natural Hazards Review.

Lo, A., Cheung, C., & Law, R. (2007). The survival of hotels during disaster: A case study of Hong Kong in 2003. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research.

Martin-Breen, P., & Anderies, J. M. (2011). Resilience: A literature review.

Mileti, D. (1999). Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States. Washington D. C.: Joseph Henry Press.

Raymond, G. (2018). Hawaiians blame misunderstanding of volcano and doomsday headlines for big drop in tourism.

Ms. Brown Nancy Brown has a decade of experience working in hotels in the USA and the Caribbean. Originally from Southern California, she earned a Master of Science degree at California State University, Long Beach in Emergency Services Administration and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Ms. Brown leveraged this education to develop best practices and training programs while working as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for The Hotels at the Disneyland Resort® in Anaheim, California. Over the last three years she has worked full time developing the Disaster Resilience Framework for Hotels (DRFH) which describes factors of resilience that hotels can leverage to build resilience. This interdisciplinary study combines the relatively new disaster science field with hospitality industry studies and organizational resilience studies. Nancy Brown can be contacted at +19498745508 or n.brown1@massey.ac.nz Please visit https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nancy_Brown11 for more information. Extended Biography

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