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Weather Or Not You Like It, Here it Comes

Here are some smart strategies to cope with and plan for Mother Nature's Wrath to protect your hotel and your guests.

Thursday, February 27, 2014
Francine Cohen
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The first three to five times you heard that "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!" song back at the beginning of the holiday season it was a charming and cheery experience. Now, not so much after the way we've been walloped by snow and other inclement weather throughout the country. From coast to coast, over 22 states have been paralyzed this winter proving once again that Mother Nature really is in control and we just have to roll with it. So how do you prepare and react to weather related conditions you simply can't control?

A positive attitude and proactive reaction before guests felt a negative impact was the method chosen by management of the Buenos Aires Grand Hotel (www.buenosairesgrand.com). The hotel, set in the heart of Buenos Aires' tony Recoleta neighborhood, found itself, just three and a half weeks after opening, quite a bit under water thanks to the torrential rain driving down from back end of Hurricane Sandy which was busily pelting the other side of the world. On this very soggy day the hotel's general manager, front and back of house staff all jumped into action, rolling up their sleeves to deal with the weather crisis. While contending with the downpour and its impact on the building they also had to contend with the fact that many hotels outside America provide a breakfast plan as part of the room rate and that breakfast couldn't be interrupted. While scurrying around trying to dry out and repair water damage the hotel's staff also seamlessly provided their guests a beautiful breakfast experience filled with gracious hospitality and buoyed by camaraderie.

Despite a waterlogged bottom floor and dining room, a mostly out of commission kitchen, passenger elevators shut down and a big birthday party on the books for that night the staff sprang into action and swiftly enacted a triage plan which included notifying guests and minimizing any inconveniences. The normal breakfast plan served in the dining room shifted to an elaborate continental breakfast laid out on a coffee table in the foyer and umbrellas were offered and car service arrangements made for those guests who found their plans fouled by the heavy rain. As crews were working overtime to clean the kitchen, replace foodstuffs, get the elevator running, carpets and banquettes and other furniture replaced, not a single hint of the behind the scenes frenzy was visible on any staff member's face and their charming attention to detail wasn't derailed one bit. Impressive level of guest service; particularly for a property under even more fire as they would normally be in a new opening situation.

The situation at the Heathman Kirkland (www.heathmankirkland.com) in Washington was pretty dire when the hotel had to close due to a malfunctioning water main. The eruption caused the hotel, the spa and Trellis, the notable farm to table restaurant that is a lunchtime and after work gathering place for local business leaders, as well as a neighborhood hot spot, to shut for a while. Hotel management took the proverbial lemons and turned them into lemonade, using the closure as an opportunity to make some long desired improvements to their property. All the while maintaining their staff's salaries to ensure nobody lost their job and everyone would return once repairs were completed.

The repairs necessary after Hurricane Sandy took charge of lower Manhattan and the mayor issued a mandatory evacuation of the area were also viewed as an opportunity in the eyes of the Wall Street Andaz Hotel's management (www.newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com) Safety was a priority here and thankfully all guests were moved to sister properties Andaz Fifth Avenue and the Grand Hyatt without issue. All non-essential staff vacated too, and furniture and perishables were moved to higher ground, leaving just the aftermath to deal with once access to the property was fully possible two weeks later. With the spa, event space and one of two F&B outlets on or below the ground floor there was much ramping up to do. F&B operations rolled back on line in phases while a wholesale re-configuration and modernization of their event space was underway, thereby turning the storm damage to a competitive advantage.

The hotel's GM, Jeffrey Miller, explains, "The world changed after we opened in 2008. Needs in the Wall Street district were very different then than they are today. Demands for events are now towards social events and we needed more social gathering spaces as we are attracting more social business on the weekends."

He continues, "The other thing we really wanted to capitalize on is the advancements in technology especially in audio visual – we wanted to really been known as the hotel that has the most up to date connectivity for our customers. It is an advantage. It’s definitely the wave of the future, and probably in two to three years everyone will have to make the conversion."

In addition to converting interior spaces to better address event needs, new protections against future natural disasters were added to the structure. Miller references the hotel's new protective barrier walls that can be erected during a storm and pumps to carry water away from the building. He concludes, "This will provide hopefully provide approx 6 foot redirection of the water and we are pretty optimistic we’re well prepared for future."

Preparing potential guests so that everyone avoided disappointment was the name of the game when New York City was hit by the Polar Vortex. When Mother Nature packed a wallop sending snow and ice at such a rate that it closed Kingside (www.kingside-restaurant.com), the new restaurant set in Midtown's recently opened Viceroy Hotel (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com) and created by Chef Marc Murphy and hotelier Scott Gerber there was nothing they could do. Except wring everything out and notify guests of the inconvenience as they tried to get back to business. Though they quickly regrouped and were able to re-open within about three weeks the saving grace was the notification to restaurant and hotel guests alike that was admirable and effective. All channels - media, social, in-hotel - were used to notify diners of the shut down. Thankfully, knowledge truly is power and despite the restaurant's temporary closure hotel guests did not go hungry so there wasn't much of an uproar from them as General Manager Gerard Denneny notes, "“We were disappointed that Kingside was closed due to a flood caused by the “polar Vortex”, thankfully all our guests understood the situation and while they were not able to avail of the facilities at Kingside we were able to maintain our 24 hour room service operation. “

While it's primarily a 24 hour a day job during the winter and rainy months to be thinking about weather conditions and their implication on your property and guest services, having a reactive and proactive plan to deal with inclement weather, and the unexpected, should be on your mind year round. It might not put you in control, but at least a good plan allows you to successfully cope.
Francine Cohen    Francine Cohen
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Francine Cohen is hotelinteractive.com’s editor. She covers the notable people, news and trends that make the hospitality world so vibrant. Recent guest judge appearances at the Cape May Food & Wine Festival Iron Chef competition and Saborea Culinary Festival in Puerto Rico have led to ongoing speaking engagements. ...
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