47 – Crisis Management for Hotels During COVID-19

by | April 22, 2020

In this episode of the Suite Spot, we continue sharing helpful insights and tips to help hoteliers combat the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Host Ryan Embree is joined by Travel Media Group’s Director of Marketing, Anne Sandoval, to discuss 5 Strategies of Crisis Response.

Anne, who studied crisis management and has a graduate certificate in corporate communication, talks us through each component of crisis response. Ryan and Anne then apply these crisis response strategies to the hotel industry. They share insightful statistics surrounding these strategies and give some specific examples of how they can be implemented at a property level. These 5 crisis response components – responsiveness, transparency, accountability, consistency, and action – build the foundation of an effective game plan for managing this global emergency.

If you are looking for more information on the hotel industry and coronavirus visit Travel Media Group’s COVID-19 hotel marketing resource center online or reach out to us by phone or text at 407-984-7455.

Episode Transcript
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check-in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host Ryan Embree recording remotely again during this COVID-19 crisis. And with me today we have another frequent guest of the Suite Spot, also recording remotely for the first time, Anne Sandoval. So Anne, I know you’ve been with us a couple times, definitely a different location than when we are usually recording, but want to welcome you to the Suite Spot.

Anne Sandoval:
Hey Ryan, thanks for having me. I definitely prefer when we are able to record face to face, but I’m glad this is working out. It’s awesome. I’m so happy to be here, once again.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely, feeling very thankful that we’re able to give all of our listeners content, insights, and education on the current ongoing COVID-19 crisis today. We’ve got a really great episode that I think is going to be very relevant to what’s going on and best practices and tips on how hoteliers can implement ways to handle this COVID -19 crisis that really we’ve never been through before. So Anne, is not only our Director of Marketing at Travel Media Group, but has studied at the University of Central Florida with a master’s in mass communication and a certificate of corporate communication and has studied crisis management. So I thought no better person to bring on with us today to talk about some of the components and strategies of crisis response than Anne. And what we’re going to do today, in this episode, is we’re actually going to go through the five components or strategies of crisis response. We’re going to go through each one, we’re going to talk to them from a high level of how these tips and strategies would work just overall, and then we’re really gonna drill down into the hotel industry and how we can apply that to the hotel that you may be managing during this crisis today. So let’s go ahead and get started with the first tip.

Anne Sandoval:
Of course, yeah. Thanks Ryan for that introduction. So the first component of crisis response that’s important to talk about is responsiveness. And the reason I’m going to mention it first is because it’s so time sensitive. Some industry experts say that you have just 15 minutes to respond when a crisis occurs. And you might be thinking, “Why is that, 15 minutes sounds almost unreasonably fast?” But the reason is because now information is shared 24/7/365 and consumer expectations are higher than ever. If it’s a small crisis, like a negative tweet about your business, it might seem a little more reasonable to respond quickly. But what about in a larger crisis? I think the important thing to help you tackle those 15 minutes is to really identify who should be in the room with you when you decide how you’re going to respond to this. And if you know who those people are ahead of time, that’s really helpful. So in those 15 minutes, you’re going to have a discussion and you need to answer these questions, “How is this crisis going to impact my business? What can I do to mitigate the damage? What should I say to my customers and my stakeholders? And ultimately who is going to be in charge of conveying my message to my customers?” But whatever you do, don’t stay silent, because saying no comment actually says a lot about you and your business and it leaves way too many questions in the eyes of your consumers. So the key is really to acknowledge the situation as quickly and as professionally as possible.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, the hotel industry as a whole, more than most, I would say is prepared for this strategy of responsiveness because we are a 24/7/365 business. We deal with different types of crisis on different levels, it almost feels like every day as a hotelier, right? Whether that is, you know, a negative review online, whether there’s something operationally like a leak or you know, something wrong with the property that we need to fix immediately. So I think more than others, the hotel industry really is prepared for this responsiveness. And as an industry, we’re judged in many forms when it comes to responsiveness. Review response is one, social media communication, when travelers are asking us questions via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but again an overall operational responsiveness. We have to be quick to adapt to the times that there are today and at a time of consumer fear and uncertainty responsiveness is one of the tools that hoteliers can use to really ease those fears of guests and potential travelers. I do want to caution hoteliers though, don’t confuse fast responsiveness with effective responsiveness. You might have responded to review. You’re so used to it, you know, you’re responding to reviews constantly. You might just take three to five minutes to respond to a review, but now is the time to be really, really critical, professional, and detailed in our responses. We want to make sure we aren’t using templates. We want to double check for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, because now more than ever, these customers and travelers are being super, super detailed in the research that they’re doing and they’re going to be looking at that response with a different eye than they did maybe a month or six months ago. So make sure that those responses are done in a timely fashion, but they’re also very effective.

Anne Sandoval:
Ryan, I think you made such a good point there because yes, we want to be responsive, but I think that 15 minutes is an important 15 minutes, you know, to really think through your response and to make sure that you’re not just responding in the heat of the moment. Really take that time to put a strategy in place for how to move forward. So I totally agree.

Ryan Embree:
As hoteliers, we should be used to that. We see questions, comments, reviews coming to us at all times. You know, I love those questions that you ask, I think it’s very important for as leaders, as GMs, owners, front desk managers, any type of leadership position, you might not always be fielding those questions that are coming in, whether it’s a phone call, a comment through social media, or a review. So you definitely want to have a hotel voice, a consistent hotel voice in all the questions that are being answered. So maybe get your staff together, come up with some of the questions that they’ve been hearing at the front desk, over phone call so that you can have a consistent and clear message when responding to those questions that are being asked by travelers that, again are really uncertain right now and have that bit of anxiety when it comes to traveling. Let’s go ahead and talk about the second strategy to crisis response.

Anne Sandoval:
Yeah, so the next component of crisis response is transparency. So if you’ve never thought about this concept before, you may be wondering what transparency is and really to be transparent is to be characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially when concerning your business practices. So it’s kind of like saying my business is an open book and making sure that everyone, all of your customers and stakeholders, have access to read that book. So it’s important that you come across as genuine and not as if you’re trying to hide anything or to deceive anyone. A 2013 research study from the university of Miami states, “The use of transparent communication during the initial stages of response to a crisis can greatly diminish the duration of the recovery process.” If you think about a time like this with the Coronavirus, the more that you can do to speed up your recovery process, the better it’s going to be for your business. So it’s also helpful to note that transparency is more important now than ever before. A 2016 study argues that, “The reason it’s more critical now than before is specifically because of this digital era that we’re living in.” There is nowhere to hide. So by being transparent upfront, you can build positive goodwill with your customers.

Ryan Embree:
I am so glad that we’re talking about transparency when it comes to crisis management because I think it is so important to do so. As hoteliers and in the hospitality industry, I think we’re taught to kind of stay in the shadows and in the background with some of the things, we want people’s vacations to feel perfect. We don’t want anyone to be in the way. We don’t want anyone to be in clear view of cleaning. We want just that clean room, that perfect experience, and right now that’s a little almost contradictive of what this transparency is because right now more than ever, we actually want to be showing guests that we’re cleaning our amenities that we’re cleaning a visible lobby area. We’re wiping down maybe the front desk from time to time. You know, when I saw this tip here in the strategy, what I thought of was all of those places that you go where you see the cleaning timestamps, where you see that someone had cleaned this particular area at this particular time. That peace of mind right now is so important for a guest just overall mentality about your business. So maybe in the past, six months ago, we wanted to kind of wait until the lobby was completely empty to go ahead and clean it. Right now, that transparency of showing that we’re cleaning, showing that we’re putting protocols into place to protect our guests is going to go a long way. So I think that’s really, really important in shifting the mindset of a hotelier.

Anne Sandoval:
I totally agree and I want to add that transparency is just as important with your employees as it is with your customers. When I think about the coronavirus and how much our lives have changed in the last month, one of the things that’s brought me a lot of peace of mind at Travel Media Group is just how much clear and genuine communication we are receiving from our leadership. And I think if you can do something similar in your hotel that that will go a long way with your employees helping reduce their stress, which is ultimately going to help them be more positive and productive as they’re working through this difficult time.

Ryan Embree:
I agree. This is our time to really kind of over-explain our policies, not only to our guests, but to our staff. So when something, you know, one of those many crisis that we talked about earlier, let’s say even something as simple as a maintenance issue, a lock’s not working. Someone needs to come back down and get a new key card because it’s not working. How are we handling that? So let’s put those policies in place now, make them visible to both our staff and our guests, so that they know that we’re putting the proper protocols in place to ensure your safety. I think that goes a long way in that transparency is the best way to do that. So whether that be physical signs, whether that be posting on social media, the new protocols, you can’t be transparent enough right now. Your guests and your staff will appreciate that. So love that tip. Let’s move on to tip number three.

Anne Sandoval:
Yeah, so the next one is all about accountability. So across various models of crisis management, accountability is a really important component. What it is, is an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. However, you might be thinking, well in a case of COVID-19 no one in the hotel industry is at fault. So what would it mean for me to be accountable in this situation? Well, for a business that’s indirectly managing a crisis like this one, it’s all about being accountable for any of the snowball effects that come up. Accountability starts before the crisis and continues into the aftermath. So during this aftermath, it’s important that you take ownership of your actions in response to the crisis. So any issues that come up around cleaning practices, cancellation policies, or similar situations can create potential landmines for you to navigate. So it’s important to have a plan in place and to accept accountability and potentially apologize when things don’t go as planned.

Ryan Embree:
Control what you can control, right? That was one of the tips we talked about on our last episode. We are taking this crisis as an industry, globally, and personally in a day by day state. So accountability, you’re right, this wasn’t anyone’s fault, this was kind of that black swan event that if you’re a hotelier out there and you’ve been to those conferences before, you’ve heard about, you know, that cautious optimism that we’ve been hearing about years leading into 2020. It’s no one’s fault, but let’s control what we can control moving forward. So I think accountability is absolutely necessary in a time of crisis like this.

Anne Sandoval:
The next topic I want to talk about is consistency. That’s the fourth component of crisis response that we’re going to talk today when a crisis like COVID-19 is ongoing rather than acute, consistency is going to be your key to success. So that means that the things we talked about earlier, like responsiveness, transparency, and accountability need to happen throughout the crisis and not just at the outset. So you want to make these an ongoing part of your day to day, this whole time that we’re dealing with the coronavirus. So by being consistent, you build trust with your customers, you help ease their concerns, and it’s going to help you offer reassurance about the future.

Ryan Embree:
This is our time to shine. Consistency is where we thrive. Brands are doing a great job during this time of putting out very strong and consistent messages out there that hopefully our franchisees are taking into practice. And it’s this consistency here that will create this new normal moving forward and is actually going to give you the advantage over vacation rental sites like Airbnb where that level of consistency’s not there, like cleaning practices or customer service. So again, the hotel industry, this is our time to shine because we have consistent SOPs. This is also a time to maybe reevaluate those standard operating practices. Are we going to be implementing new cleaning procedures that are going to carry on? This will be a new normal. If you’re running your hotel the same way after this, then you were before this, we’re not adapting. So make sure that our policies that we’re putting in place are being followed consistently by our staff and make sure that we’re being consistent with the messaging that our brands or if you’re an independent hotel, you know, put a strong message together, reach out to your customers, whether that be via your website, social media posts, review response. Make sure that message is consistent and strategic.

Anne Sandoval:
You know, Ryan, I think all of those examples you just gave do a perfect job of illustrating our fifth component that we’re going to talk about today, which is action. When a crisis occurs, it’s important not to let yourself be paralyzed by the situation and taking corrective action to fix any issues or implementing preventative plans to avoid further damage to your reputation is essential. So action could include prepping anyone who represents the company on the situation. So think about your front desk staff and any strategic messaging or talking points. You want to update those policies and procedures to avoid future crises and create an action plan to maximize the positive outcomes or to help speed up your recovery.

Ryan Embree:
You’re right. This is it. This is the point, you know, every episode I feel or every single blog article I read, LinkedIn message I see, it always ends on a message of hope and taking action now to prepare for the future. Do not be complacent, do not be idle with what you’re doing right now. We need to be focusing on our guests that are coming in today, our guests that are coming in for the next three months and potentially looking to the future and our guests six plus months. Have a strategy in place for all three of those, really get with your team, sit down and talk about the type of hotel that you want to be after this crisis is over. You know, maybe you’ve been in the industry for a couple decades now and there have always been those things that you’ve thought about prior to this. “Man, if I could go back and implement this, I really think it’d take my property the next level.” Well maybe you can start doing that when you come out of this, so I would keep an open mind, but definitely we want to be action filled, whether that’s physically doing operation side, preventative maintenance at the property, deep cleaning of the rooms, or whether that’s on the mental side. Learn a new skill during this time, learn about networking on LinkedIn, learn about how we can get the most out of our social media and Facebook or how to cold call for new groups or RFPs. There’s so much information right now and hoteliers are banding together with open arms giving you all of this valuable insight and information. So figure out where that is and figure out what’s going to be best for your property. Those were the five strategic components of crisis response. So I appreciate your insights Anne, any final thoughts, advice, best practices you can give?

Anne Sandoval:
Yeah, I would just say, you know, when a crisis like this occurs, it’s almost like you go into fight or flight mode. And it’s human nature to either get defensive and angry or to try and hide from reality. And that’s the reason why preparedness is so important. If you have a plan in place for how to handle a crisis situation, then you won’t just focus on your emotions. Instead, you’ll be able to move forward confidently with an action plan. And during COVID-19 our industry itself is facing a potential crisis. How we handle it and how well we’re able to recover are dependent on the actions we take today. I hope these five components of crisis management will help you implement some practical solutions at your property to mitigate the adverse effects of the coronavirus and set you up for success in the long run. If you’re looking for more resources like this, visit the Travel Media Group website because we’ve just launched our COVID-19 hotel marketing resource center where you can find more podcasts, episodes, webinars, articles, all sorts of things that cover these topics and give you practical strategies to implement.

Ryan Embree:
Thank you so much. That’s great advice. We kind of end all of our episodes, you know, the same way in saying that we are here to help at Travel Media Group. As Anne said, you can find all of our information on our resource center or you can call our text us at (407) 984-7455. Anne, thank you so much for being on with us.

Anne Sandoval:
Thanks again for inviting me.

Ryan Embree:
Thank you to our listeners, wishing you safety and health during this time and we will talk to you next time on the Suite Spot. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host, Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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