At the recent Eye for Travel event in New York, I had the pleasure of hearing Dean Dacko, the SVP of Marketing for Malaysia Airlines talk about how he handled the recent tragedies involving his company’s flights. Like most people listening to him, I was amazed at how his job responsibilities changed in an instant. He went from marketing strategy and driving new customers to book flights one day, to doing full-time damage control the next.
Listening to him, it struck me how much hospitality crisis management has changed over the last decade. Crisis management planning used to be led by lawyers and operations teams and involve a linear set of steps that must be followed, with calculated communications. Today, social media and marketing communications need to be at the center of any crisis strategy. As Dacko warned, too much process without communication causes stories to spiral out of control and take on lives of their own. Because the Internet and social media enable real-time information to be shared, people expect brands to not only share their news in real time, but also be responsive to questions and feedback.
Unlike the procedure binders of the old days that dictated how to respond and what to say, Dacko’s strategy was much more fluid. His strategy was ‘to move, monitor and adjust’. One of the first things he did was institute a complete brand blackout, taking down all ads across the Web. While the decision wasn’t cheap—it cost the airlines 600 million dollars for the six week period—it allowed the brand to avoid embarrassing media placement situations, e.g. a news story of the tragedy next to a ‘book your next flight’ ad. At the same time, the company was doing everything in its power to take care of the families of those affected. In fact, Malaysia Airlines spent one million dollars a day to take care of the next of kin in Beijing.
Once the company felt the media storm was over and the next of kin were taken care of, they moved into recovery and continuity modes. Less than two months after the crash, the airline had its second biggest booking month ever. Unfortunately, that was followed by the tragedy of MH17. While the company now had practice with the media storm, they were once again tested and forced to refine how they communicated with customers and the world.
Every hotel today should ensure they have the proper methods of communicating with guests and the public should the need arise. Weather disasters, terrorist activities and government uprisings seem to be more and more prevalent today. Hotels need to ensure that the lines of communication with guests are always open.
Social media engagement is certainly one method to keep the lines of communication open. Hoteliers should follow storm hash tags, in addition to the hotel, and engage with participants when you can add value and help provide real-time information.
Revinate’s new platform, inGuest, also provides a powerful platform for engaging with past and current guests through a mobile app, mobile site, or SMS. Communications teams can simply select the profile they would like to mail to, e.g. past guest, current guest, or guest within 50 miles, and tailor a message specifically for that profile. Here is one scenario that I can imagine:
A Hurricane is forecast near your resort
- Message all guests that are scheduled to arrive within the next couple of days but are not yet on-site to update them on airport and road conditions. Provide information on canceling reservations and rebooking for another time
- Continually message all guests that are on-site with emergency instructions for staying safe while on property and details on airport and road conditions
- Ask on-site guests to message you back to ensure you have an accurate count of who is on property. Ensure they know that they can message you back at any time for real-time communication with staff
Following the hurricane:
- Depending in the severity of the storm, message guests following the storm with details on impacted services and outlets
- Message guests that have stayed with you in the past with an update on the property and a special promotion to come back
- Message guests that live within 20 miles of the property with best wishes for a quick clean-up and details on where to turn for help
As you can see, by targeting your database, you can send relevant messages that add value and improve your relationship with your customers. It also allows for two-way communications with staff to ensure your guests and customers have an easy way to reach you, at any time.
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