With weather patterns increasingly uncertain, it pays for hoteliers and property owners to be prepared for emergencies. Click. explores the importance of a bad weather back-up plan
by Ben Lerwill, Click. Travel Writer
If there’s a common theme to today’s global weather patterns, it’s that freak weather is no longer freak weather. From snowless ski resorts, abnormal heatwaves and water shortages on one hand to hurricanes, blizzards and floods on the other, seasonal weather has – and we’ve now reached a point where the argument is essentially closed – become less predictable.
The UN calls climate change “the defining issue of our time”. A report published in 2018 by the World Meteorological Organization explains that the 70 tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere this year were well up on the long-term average of 53, also pointing out that the past four years have been the four hottest on record.
An unsettled climate has obvious implications for sections of the hotel industry. Extreme meteorology is nothing new in itself, of course, but certain situations and questions are now arising with more regularity. What happens when all local flights are grounded? How do you keep a hotel full of snowboarders happy if there’s no snow on the slopes? And if the weather’s so bad that guests can neither leave nor arrive – what then?
“It’s about being prepared,” says Heinz Wehrle, Managing Partner of hotel, tourism and leisure consultants Horwath HTL. “You need contingency plans for all kinds of situations. I can think of around ten occasions when guests and staff were snowed in to one of our European ski hotels, for example. We needed enough food, electricity and water to function without access from the outside, sometimes for up to five days. You need stock in place, and you need staff trained to deal with the situation. We also had a contract with a city hotel in Zurich where arriving guests could stay until the roads opened again.”
He touches too on the flipside of this situation, pointing out that long-term planning can help counter the pressure on one particular time of year. “In Switzerland and Austria we’re getting less and less snow, so it’s been important to strengthen the product for the summer season – hiking, biking, golf and so on. It helps you make more money year-round.”
Across the Atlantic in the Caribbean, meanwhile, hurricane season brings its own set of problems. How do its resorts cope with conditions that can be extremely severe? “It boils down to communications and planning,” says Frank Comito, CEO of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA). “Let guests know exactly what’s going on, what the status is, what’s happening at the airports, everything. This provides a greater level of comfort. Some of the hotels are really savvy. They’ve trained their staff on how to entertain guests and how to deal with their anxieties. It takes the edge off the situation and it becomes more of an experience. With some properties, their guest satisfaction rating during a hurricane actually improves because of the personal touch.”
If the hotel keeps functioning, it’s likely the guests will be happy
Keeping guests happy has other advantages, too. Wehrle explains that insurance companies have been persuaded to help some hotels invest in extra freezers and back-up generators, to ensure guests can be looked after in the event of weather-enforced power cuts. “We explained that if we’re able to give the customers high levels of service then most likely there will be no claims against the insurance companies,” he says. “If the hotel keeps functioning, it’s likely the guests will be happy. Sitting together with the staff in the evenings, having dinner, playing cards, wine-tasting. It can be something special for them.”
It’s a stretch to think that any sane holidaymaker would hope to be caught in a weather emergency, but it highlights that guest care is a vital area. Heidi Castle of global software company Sabre points out that technology can play a major role. “For hoteliers, the most important aspect of the guest experience is consistency, so having technology that provides operational support and allows for a more personal approach is key,” she says. “They need up-to-the-minute inventory control to accommodate guests as plans change, and a robust mobile app that helps them stay in touch with guests.”
Given the ongoing evolution of technology – and indeed climate patterns – it makes sense to not only have a firm preparation plan but to review it regularly. “We do training courses and readiness communications every year,” says Comito. “It’s front and centre. Hotels are better prepared than they were a decade ago.”
He also points out another relevant aspect of the situation: a tendency, even in the travel trade itself, to assume that an entire geographical region is affected by the extreme weather event hitting the headlines, when the truth is often very different. On these occasions, it pays for unaffected hoteliers to take active steps in communicating the fact with travel agents, prospective guests and the media. In other words, if it’s business as usual, let that be known.
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Ben Lerwill is an award-winning freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire, EnglandMore by Ben Lerwill
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