PR dos and donts for hotels

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an Associated Press report about a Holiday Inn in Harrisburg, PA that reportedly is the site of a “flu-like illness similar to the highly contagious Norwalk virus or norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, cramps and other symptoms”. The report also notes that “Someone who answered the hotel’s phone said no one there had any comment, then hung up”. Authorities responded by initially by “strongly discouraging people from entering or leaving” and subsequently eased off after identifying the type of illness and refrained from imposing a quarantine. The upshot of the outbreak for the hotel is that a public relations disaster was only made worse by a lack of communication to the press and, possibly, to its guests. The franchisor, IHG, very likely had an SOP in place but for whatever reason, the hotel did not resort to it. At any rate some tried and tested PR dos and donts – in no particular order – bear repeating:

– Consult your crisis response manual if there is one.
– Designate one person – property GM is usually the best option – to respond to the press.
– Tell the truth and tell it fast.
– Never ignore the situation by not responding to queries.
– Determine who among public safety officials (hospitals, police, fire department etc.) are to be contacted and direct enquiries in that area to the appropriate person.
– If media seeks access to the hotel premises – subject to approval from local authorities – designate a fixed spot such as a meeting room as the venue for all interactions.
– Never talk “off the record”.
– Try and develop a prepared statement – however brief – to hand out to the media.

While even venerable old line names have like Pepsi, Coke, Procter and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson have committed seemingly absurd public relations blunders with attendant costs to the bottom line and reputation, hotels can and should have a “media response” plan in place to cater to unexpected disasters. That will go a long way towards averting long term damage to their reputation.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.