While the hotel industry welcomes the influx of summer leisure travelers, the upcoming balmy months also signal the start of hurricane season.
In fact, hurricane season reared its ugly head a bit early, as Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recorded 25 inches of rain in just one day in April — shutting down the city and surrounding areas.
With such extreme weather conditions, hotels have had to prepare more than ever, creating new standards and measures to keep guests and employees safe, while also catering to and entertaining travelers trapped indoors.
“The priority of our properties is safety of our teams and our guests,” said Mark Alvarez, chief people and culture officer at Raines, a hospitality management, development and investment organization.
Communication is key through any bad weather event, from the initial weather forecasts to the actual event, Alvarez said. Not all team members who have committed to stay during an event will be able to, nor will all employees that are part of the communication channel respond, and there needs to be a plan for changes to work schedules.
“Pay is the one item that most people forget to discuss, but it’s vital for our teams to understand how they will be paid if they are working longer shifts or staying overnight,” Alvarez said. “Having a schedule that allows staff to come in early, stay late or even stay on-property during severe weather events helps our team avoid traveling during storms and keeps them safe.”
In addition, preparedness includes ordering non-perishable foods for staff to last several days along with water, Alvarez said. The problem that many hoteliers overlook is that guests have not prepared for their own food needs and become dependent on whatever the hotel is able to offer. If the property has a food-and-beverage operation, guests may assume all menu items to be available and the kitchen will operate as normal. Using first-in, first-out to avoid spoilage is good, but reducing portion sizes and service times may be necessary. Having cash on hand is a must. Purchasing water or fuel may only be an option with cash if power is out in the community.
Alvarez said that while some of the newer hotels have emergency generators, not all properties do. This poses challenges in a few ways. Properties without generators may not be able to comfortably house guests or staff once power is lost. Relocating guests or staff once this happens may not be an option. Managers must assess whether the hotel is in an evacuation zone or flood-prone area.
In addition to safety and comfort, there is also the issue of keeping travelers occupied.
“One thing we have found is that guests like to have fun regardless of the weather, so alcohol consumption must be considered. Ordering the basics ahead of time is a tactic that can help alleviate the anxiety,” Alvarez said.
For hotels with smaller lobbies, it’s difficult to embrace many guests at once, but using meeting spaces allows guests to get out of their rooms and have a different view, which can help.
“Board games are the go-to when power is limited and internet is not available, and properties also have played hallway karaoke, where we announce by knocking on guest doors that we will be singing random songs and invite them to join in,” Alvarez said. “Many are shy at first, but after the first one or two guests or staff start singing, others will at least smile, clap, dance or even join in.”
Making sure guests are entertained and well-fed is key to getting through rough weather conditions. Alex Ekbatani, owner of the Ette Hotel in Orlando, Florida, said he ensures there’s fruit and snacks over ice available for guests throughout the day.
In addition, age-appropriate sing-alongs for children, adults and seniors around the grand piano in the property’s lobby featuring Disney and other kid songs, pop songs, as well as musical theater favorites from well-known composers have entertained guests during storms. The Ette Hotel also has organized karaoke nights, has had guests request their favorite movies and projected them on a big screen, and provided complimentary yoga, stretching, tai chi, relaxation and other classes in the social room.
Other activities have included an origami class, sushi-making, chess tournament and mixology demonstrations, Ekbatani added.
Adam Miller, corporate director of fun and engagement at Rentyl Resorts, said hotel employees in Florida are always prepared for weather changes.
“As we know, Florida is known for its major thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes and more. At our resorts, we like to follow the three P’s — practice, prepare, promote,” Miller said.
Rentyl Resorts practices for any type of major weather situation, prepares days in advance for any type of major storms and promotes activities and other events for the inside as needed.
“For our tropical storms and hurricanes, we will make sure everyone has practiced the safety and breakdown of our pool and resort features and then prepare for the storm and then promote all of our activities and events inside. We will host every one of our same events that we host outside with the exclusion of anything involving the pool,” Miller said.
At Hilton, hurricane season preparation starts in January. Hilton’s Safety and Security teams lead training sessions and share meteorologist forecasts for the 182-day hurricane season from June 1 to Nov. 30. Properties in frequently impacted zones receive a hurricane preparedness checklist via Hilton’s crisis response mobile app to ensure they’re stocked on supplies like satellite phones, batteries, diesel fuel, non-perishable food items and sandbags.
There also is the Hilton Visual Command Center. These tools serve as a one-stop shop for all hurricane-related information and resources — from interactive tracking maps showing a storm’s proximity to Hilton properties, to real-time property status updates, to sharing lessons learned between severe weather events.
Once a storm hits, Hilton’s Incident Response Team, comprised of security directors and engineers, is deployed as the first “boots on the ground” to affected areas, ensuring the safety of team members and guests, securing the property and requesting any additional support required from Hilton. If needed, the IRT will support evacuation efforts by coordinating transportation and handling other logistics.
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