Crisis communications in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy

What has transpired in Boston is a tragedy of epic proportions. My immediate sympathies and condolences go out to all those affected by this unspeakable act of evil.

Many nearby hotels were severely impacted by the Boston Marathon bombing. In the wake of this disaster, it is vital that you contemplate whether such a calamitous event could occur in your area. It need not be a machination of man, either. Think back to the losses caused by Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 — both regions are still reeling from the damages.

This tragedy serves as a permanent reminder of the crucial nature of forming, memorizing and training your staff on a crisis communications plan. It is a fundamental responsibility of every hotel and resort operator to ensure the safety of his or her guests during such a tumultuous event.

In this era of social media and otherwise rapid communication, you not only need a clearly defined plan, but you must have it on hand at all times so you can act quickly, and it must be reviewed every year to ensure it’s up-to-date. This is a project that should be assigned as a top priority to your director of marketing in conjunction with your risk management team.

Crisis communications checklist

At a minimum, your crisis communications plan should include the following precautionary items:

  • A complete contact list for all senior staff, including home telephone and cell numbers as well as personal (not property) email accounts
  • A contact list for senior advertising and public relations staff
  • Permission lists for your website, blog, Facebook account, Twitter account and any other company social media
  • A series of protocols that identify who will be the spokesperson for your property and how communications are to be handled by staff during a crisis
  • An incidence reporting structure to document issues and responses
  • Training tips on dealing with the media
  • Sample scripts for news releases and your social media outlets

Testing your communications plan

A separate in-depth team meeting should address possible and foreseeable crisis situations. Apart from simply reviewing the plan, role-play can form an important part of bringing the plan to life. Try splitting into teams and assigning each team hypothetical scenarios for which they have to manage. Have them follow your crisis communications plan, craft responses and note any suggestions that must be made to properly handle each specific event.

Your team will appreciate the challenges and be better equipped to supervise a difficult state of affairs should it actually happen. Ideally, you should marry this annual revision with your budget-planning activities.

It is also critical to remember that crises that affect your business are likely not to occur on property. A regional crisis — a flood or earthquake in your major feeder market, the closure of your local airport or a breakdown of utilities such as electrical power or fresh water — can be just as detrimental to your business as anything that might happen on site.

The bottom line

All of us will probably be faced with a crisis at one time or another. No matter what the ordeal, the situations are always stressful. How we as operators and senior managers deal with these situations are the true tests of our ability as hosts and hoteliers. Having a crisis communications plan reduces the risks that stem from such miscues. You owe it to yourself, your staff and your guests to be as prepared as possible.