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).

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

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.