Responding to crises takes planning, time

By Peter Mitham

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – The tropical isles of the Caribbean
are a world away from the rat race of North America and an attractive
destination for travellers looking to escape the latest polar vortex.

But variable and severe weather patterns also threaten the
region, not to mention a host of reputational issues that can easily go viral
on social media. Whether it’s fears of crime, disease or disaster, knowing how
to respond is the first step to a successful recovery.

This was the focus of a panel at this year’s Caribbean Hotel
Investment Conference & Operations Summit (CHICOS) in Montego Bay, Jamaica,
hosted by HVS and attended by more than 300 people. Panel moderator Leora Lanz,
principal of LHL Communications and chair of the Masters of Management in
Hospitality program at the Boston University School of Hospitality guided five
industry leaders through a discussion around the idea of “Crisis Management:
Planning Ahead and Staying in Front of Unforeseen Issues and/or Events.” Panel
members included Lou Alicea, senior director, development, with Wyndham Hotel
Group; Kevin Dallas, CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority; Gonzalo Gonzalez,
managing partner of marketing agency bvk Miami; John Niser, director of the International
School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickenson
University in New York and Michael Register, principal of Trust Hospitality in
Florida.

Industry demand

The idea for the panel came from the CHICOS advisory board,
which felt the various challenges the Caribbean has faced over the past 18
months demanded a focused look on how to deal with crises.

“This impacts our investment,” Lanz said. “We’ve seen in the
Caribbean, in the last few years particularly, we’ve needed to communicate
stronger.”

The challenges have been many, and stretch back to at least
2016, when the Zika virus began making people think twice about visiting the
region.

Reputational issues associated with crime and violence in
several countries is another factor. Canada, for instance, has issued a travel
advisory for Jamaica, thanks to the country declaring a state of emergency in
several regions, including Montego Bay, where the CHICOS conference was held;
it advises travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution.”

Other challenges are associated with climate change.
Powerful storms have become more frequent, and even when the skies are clear
blooms of sargassum have made international headlines.

“There are lots of things that are out of our control,
they’re Mother Nature, but we have to prepare for them,” Lanz said. “It’s at a
point where it can very detrimentally impact the revenue.”

Helpful insights

The panel was helpful.

“It was great because we talked about some of the incidents
that happened, what did they learn from these incidents, and what are they
doing differently?” she said. “The key take-aways were preparedness, plans,
educating, and social [media] with visuals.”

Kevin Dallas, for example, shared Bermuda’s experience
trying to defuse weather-shy travellers not sure what to expect in the region.
Some of it is driven by ignorance of basic geography, as in 2017 when Hurricane
Irma made tracks for Barbuda – and people heard “Bermuda.”

“Bermuda had to quickly get into education mode and educate
folks as to geography,” said Lanz. “With the advent of social media you have to
use imagery to get the word out.”

Bermuda, located a thousand miles to the north, began
showing what the weather was like where it was. Lanz also encourages hotels to
make locals ambassadors for the destination, educating their own peer groups
about conditions on the ground.

Parris Jordan, CHICOS conference chair and managing director
with HVS Bahamas, said the Bahamas faced a similar issue this year as Hurricane
Dorian tracked across the country. Just two islands were affected but news
reports made it seem like the monster storm was swamping everything in its
path.

“Only two islands were affected, and those two islands don’t
have a lot of hotel rooms on them,” he told Canadian
Lodging News
. “Most of the hotel rooms were open for business and were
unaffected by the hurricane. So how do we address that? How do we as a region
get the word out that we’re open for business when people’s perception of the
news is different?”

Professionals were called in to help address the challenges
the Dominican Republic faced this year when reports of deadly drinks began
circulating. However, destinations that have a clear plan can begin laying the
foundation for recovery by tracking the news and delivering clear, honest
messaging.

Stay on top

“The challenge is, with so many distribution channels for
communications today, is to try and stay on top of it all,” she said.
“Someone’s got to stay on top of it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really
important. Some of it can spiral in the wrong direction, so that’s it’s
important to stay on top of it – especially in real time, to see what people
are saying.”

Being prepared is often the best strategy given the range of
unexpected events that can threaten to derail a destination.

“Show them visually what’s working,” she advised, and when a
crisis happens, communicate what’s being done to address the issue. “It’s
important to stay as proactive as possible. … Preparation, having documented
plans, practicing the plans – those were all really important steps and
measures that all the panellists agreed has to happen today.”