Oil Spill Update – Combat Negative Perception

By: Gilles Arditi is president of Southwind Hospitality, a full-service hotel management company based in Indian Shores, FL, with a number of properties under management in Florida.

Many hotels around the Gulf Coast are watching their vacancies grow by the day due to the oil spill. And even if the oil isn’t nearby, the worry about where it’s going is impacting properties all the way from Louisiana to southwest Florida.

Truth is, perception is reality and fear abounds that there can be a long-lasting negative financial impact on the region. Essentially, unfounded apprehension regarding the BP-caused disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is destroying the tourism economy of states bordering the Gulf. According to a study by The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) and facilitated by Oxford Economics, the region is on the precipice of unimaginable tourism losses and financial ruin.

That study, which was based on an analysis of 25 recent natural and manmade disasters, predicts losses of $22.7 billion spread over three years. Sadly, even regions that are nowhere near the affected areas are being pulled into this state of financial ruin, as worried travel consumers simply scratch off the entire area rather than research areas which have truly been affected.

But even with such bleak news, not all properties are suffering because of the endless waves of negative publicity. In fact, some of these beach properties have continued to sell out, and that’s not by accident. Savvy hoteliers are implementing smart strategies that combat media falsehood and are able to affect perception positively.

In the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history, hotel owners and managers may need to consider taking unprecedented steps to respond to guests’ concerns. Some short-term revenue may be lost, but that will be made up longer term by saving relationships and reputation.

Here are some things to consider in working with customers:

  • Over-communicate. Make reservation-holders aware that beaches are clean. Contact the hotel’s entire e-mail database regularly, for starters.
  • Customers may be checking with Visit Florida, local chambers, and elsewhere to help make their decisions about visiting. Communicate with these organizations, and help ensure they are sending the right messages.
  • As much as possible, be thinking about the long term – some bookings may be lost, but customers will remember it if you are flexible and offer concessions as needed. The key: let reservation-holders out of reservations without penalty.
  • In certain areas, it helps that many beachgoers come from nearby cities so they can wait until the last minute to confirm their rooms. Be flexible with guests booking with shorter reservation lead times.

Show appreciation to current guests – perhaps with a discount – which will make them want to come back and even tell their friends.

If the hotel has a blog or utilizes social media channels, distribute information, images and videos through those channels. If it doesn’t, now might be a good time to start. And consider allowing guests to be part of your online dialogue.

Incorporate a live video feed of the beach on your website, and other sites.
For hotels that rely solely on tourists, approaches may need to change. Increase or adjust sales staff, and shift market focus to get more corporate customers.
If a branded hotel has a potential guest threatening to cancel, the hotel can coordinate reservations at another hotel in the chain, which can help salvage the customer relationship.

For hotels that have been directly hit with oil, or are in the vicinity, there are actually opportunities for business as a result of the situation. As one example, impacted hotels should register with FedRooms.com (www.fedrooms.com) and FEMA – cleaning crews and adjusters all need places to stay, and could be staying for a long period of time.

Unfortunately, some hotels may be forced to rely on subsidies from BP or the government to get through this. If this is the case, ensure that efforts are exhausted with all possible sources. The company has set up a website to share the latest news on their efforts. Though it’s geared toward ensuring BP is seen in the best light, you can utilize it to find out how to obtain the subsidies. It is at:
http://www.bp.com/bodycopyarticle.do?categoryId=1&contentId=7052055&nicam=USCSBaselineCrisisJune&nisrc=Google&nigrp=Branded_Crisis_General&niadv=General&nipkw=b.p.

And when the situation is over – that will be a day to celebrate in the hotel industry – implement a major public relations campaign to make customers aware that their worries are over. Start planning for that now.

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About candlewoodste

Director of Sales for the Candlewood Suites located in Secaucus, NJ.
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