Do you have a crisis communications plan?

Do you have a crisis communications plan?

It’s been over a year since the Japanese tsunami. The destruction on an epic scale and the deaths of thousands of innocent people are hard to fully comprehend. 

Many years later, the landscape of New Orleans still reels from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and California shares in the earthquake-prone “Pacific Ring of Fire” alongside Japan.  

Crises can happen, often in the most unpredictable and tragic ways imaginable. Ten years ago, I was working in Manhattan on property during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Witnessing firsthand the crisis management undertaken, the memories of this incredible situation and the approach taken by hotel staff are permanent reminders of the crucial nature of this task.

It is a fundamental responsibility of every hotel and resort operator to ensure the safety of his or her guests. Your property does not have to be in a particular location to be subject to risk, either through natural disaster (earthquakes, for example) or manmade tragedy (such as a fire on property).

Last year, in the wake of the catastrophe in Japan, I quickly polled a dozen luxury properties to better understand their preparatory status. Thankfully, all claimed to have a procedure for crisis management of some sort. However, only one had a clearly defined crisis communications plan — one that had not been reviewed in several years. 

In this era of social media and otherwise rapid communication, I find this totally unacceptable. This is a project that should be assigned as a top priority to your director of marketing in conjunction with your risk management team. It should be undertaken now — not later. 

Crisis communications checklist

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

  • 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
We recommend a separate in-depth team meeting to address crisis situations. Apart from reviewing the plan, role play can form an important part of bringing the plan to life. As an example: Split into teams and assign each team hypothetical scenarios 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. 

Most importantly, be sure to revisit your plan every year. An ideal reminder might be to have this exercise coincide with your annual budget planning.

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 deal with these situations are the true tests of our ability as hoteliers and communicators. Having a crisis communications plan reduces the risks that stem from such miscues. You owe it to yourself, your owners, your staff and your guests to be as prepared as possible.