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When disaster strikes…

31 August 2006
When disaster strikes…

Abnormal events have to be factored into business planning whether we like it or not, says hotel industry consultant Melvin Gold

Once again, our tourism industry has had to deal with severe disruption caused by factors outside its control. Regrettably, the latest extraordinary events might just be becoming the norm.

As undesirable and unacceptable as it is, hoteliers now need to ensure that such "anomalies" as the recent alleged plots against transatlantic flights are factored into their business planning, both operationally and financially.

It's still unclear exactly what impact such terrorist actions would have on hotels' business. But, as in the case of last July's tragic London bombings, questions will now arise about what will happen next. Will travel habits shift?

After last year's attacks, the market was quick to recover, suffering just a short blip in performance. Let us hope the pre-emptive actions of our security services, which appear to have saved us from yet another horrific attack, prove sufficient to reassure travellers they will be safe on our shores, and while travelling to and from them.

Whatever the impact of such events, they do not detract from the need for hoteliers to focus on their business planning. I'm sure many have dusted off their disaster plans recently, but I wonder how many of these are out of date, how many staff aren't fully briefed, and how many hotels are still without any strategy at all.

Surely the time has come to put comprehensive plans in place.

Just look at what Britain's airports did during this latest emergency. OK, it didn't work perfectly, nor was it easy, but their ability to undergo such a complete change of operating practice overnight was still impressive. How would your business fare under similar circumstances?

Financial planning is equally important. Variances against budget are part of normal hotel life, but it's worth considering some downside scenarios just in case your business is dramatically affected by external events. It may even be worth factoring such events into your plans since they seem, unfortunately, to be becoming regular occurrences.

Recently, the hotel sector has seen busy times, but uncertainty in the market continues. It's worth spending some time considering what plans you have in place to cope with the unexpected.

How can hotels improve their crisis planning?

Daniel Braham, head of hotels group, Berwin Leighton Paisner "The same set of procedures applies to hotels as to most businesses: keeping records off-site and testing procedures. An IT system needs to be in place so you have the ability to telephone or e-mail guests and staff so they don't arrive the next day and the hotel becomes overrun."

Rod Taylor, relationship director and hotels team leader, Barclays "Disaster planning can be similar to a business plan. Once it's completed, it's liable to be put in a drawer and become outdated. It should be a part of senior management's constant review. They must ensure it's done, then the information can be fed to them and all staff made aware of the changes."

Avner On, general manager, Hilton London Metropole "You must have a proper manual and a clear line of command. At weekends and at night you're at your most exposed, so the managers must be prepared for any eventuality. As part of an international chain, we share all our crisis information with branches worldwide."

Wayne J Davis, general manager, Courthouse Hotel Kempinski, London "Our crisis manual is subject to review every six months. The general managers of our hotels and the operations director get together and discuss potential crises. We've just finalised the latest copy of our manual after a power cut forced us to assess our management of the situation."

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