Adversity Marketing – Facing upto disasters

The immediate effects of April's volcanic ash are well known with most hotels around the world suffering considerable losses (although Dubai's hostelry had a 25% spike thanks to their airport hub being away from the ash cloud).

Fresh on the heels of volcanic ash is yet another disaster, this time human-made, caused by the oil spill. Incredibly, it's effects are being felt as far as afield as resorts in the Florida pan-handle on Pensacola beach. The Wall Street Journal reports that despite "no waves of oil have washed ashore on Panama City Beach, where the sea
remains emerald green and the sand sugar white" hotel occupancy is down 30% from a year with experts fearing occupancy in the teens during the normally packed Memorial Day weekend in May. Yet here, as in the aftermath of other disasters, savvy hoteliers have reacted to thus far unfounded fears of oil spoiling a beach holiday by putting up web-cams on their sites that show in real time the pristine condition of surf on the local beach. The expectation is that it will revive bookings that had tapered suddenly. 

Louisiana which is in the eye of the oil "storm" has its share of resilient marketers ready to take on adversity as exemplified by Sterling Resorts, a company that rents out condos from Biloxi, MS., to Panama
City, Fl. Sterling put cameras on beaches to broadcast images to its
website while also rolling out a "clean beach" booking guarantee whereby customers can cancel reservations without paying a penalty if beaches were to be closed. The company was quoted as saying "It's allowing our guests peace of mind." Prior to that, the firm's phones had stopped ringing for new bookings.

A crucial element required for a rapid return to "normalcy" after a disaster is the a single source that co-ordinates information with regard to the real-time status of locale. In the case of hurricane Katrina five years ago, despite a well-documented case of government failure, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) reps quickly appeared on national TV programs to inform
the public of how New Orleans was  recovering from the devastation and within six months hosted its annual Mardi Gras event.  The BP oil spill, on the other hand, is yet to see co-ordinated action from local CVBs. Should the spill do more damage as is expected, the task will only get harder. 

Subsequent to the terrorist attack on hotels and other public places in Mumbai, India, some marketers have actively launched a disaster marketing program where some enterprising (some would call them opportunistic) guides offer versions of "what really happened". Since the affected hotels have been largely rebuilt and relaunched, it allows for a fair degree of interpretation that caters to interests, prurient and otherwise.

Published by

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.

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