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Being Prepared

NorthPointe’s Winey Shares Best Practices For Managing Through Severe Storms

Monday, September 16, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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While many U.S. hotels were spared major damage from Hurricane Dorian—which by and large went peacefully out to sea after battering The Bahamas—most savvy and experienced hotel owners and operators spent plenty of time preparing for the storm and bracing for impact.

One such company is NorthPointe Hospitality Management, an Atlanta-based owner/operator with 8 hotels in the Southeast U.S. The company temporarily shut down four coastal hotels and a restaurant as the storm approached earlier this month.

Greg Winey, president, NorthPointe, is no stranger to these severe weather events and having to effectively “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

All four hotels--which include the Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island and Beachview Club Hotel, both in Jekyll Island, GA, and the Hotel Indigo Mount Pleasant and Holiday Inn Express Charleston, both in Charleston, SC--were reopened as of Sept. 5 and sustained no damage.

Nevertheless, Winey knows full well the damage these storms can dish out and detailed some of the do’s and don’ts for hoteliers starting with the need for management to “communicate, communicate, communicate.”

One major don’t, according to Winey, is price gauging and exploiting a surge in demand for hotel rooms in a given region following a severe storm. “Nobody needs that kind of press and it’s just dishonorable anyway as hoteliers,” he noted.

Winey took it one step further. “We make sure it’s very apparent to our managers that we have a ‘no gauging’ policy. You don’t want to take advantage of pricing models in regard to making guests feel as if you took advantage of them so that’s critical to us,” he said.

In fact, to the contrary Winey pointed out the company offered discount pricing at the Hotel Indigo in Charleston, SC, immediately following Hurricane Dorian.

“We offered a fantastic rate over the weekend so people could get reorganized and wait for their power to come back on. It was a good way for people to de-stress a little bit and try to get into a more relaxed environment until they could get back to their homes,” he said, adding that properties within two to three hours from where a storm hits often see a major influx of visitors.

Winey also cautioned against properties “holding the line too long” and staying open despite warnings from authorities. “If you need to evacuate then you need to evacuate. You don’t ever want to put anyone in harm’s way. Mandatory evacuations are there for a reason; listen to them, pay attention to them, and follow them,” he said, adding, “voluntary [evacuations] are a little more tricky.”

He further noted with voluntary evacuations the company’s approach is to generally hold the line as long as they possibly can without “putting anyone in harm’s way.” Meanwhile, with a mandatory evacuation the company begins on a “button-up kind of mindset, which means we are going to protect the asset as best we can” and power everything down.

Monetarily speaking, Winey did acknowledge that these storms can do plenty of damage to the bottom line. “I would say that the most difficult thing is the lost business, first and foremost, because people will cancel. When they see a tropical storm coming people begin canceling immediately. They cancel during the week and cancel for the week after because they don’t feel secure in coming to that area,” he said.

Winey also pointed out that when it comes to insurance it can be very difficult to recoup your losses as coastal policies generally include very high deductibles. He estimated losses often have to total some 2%-5% of the total asset value, “so it makes it near impossible to recoup lost business insurance.”

Winey detailed some of the causes of damage. “One huge thing we learned from these events is that the saltwater shocks and can kill your foilage, grass, and shrubs. It’ll burn out and literally turn brown because of the saltwater,” he said, adding the building exterior also can be impacted.

The importance of leadership and how the staff reacts during major events cannot be underestimated, according to Winey.

“It’s a mindset that we create with a routine. Leaders have to be calm, they’ve got to be creative and they’ve got to be resourceful. They’ve got to be willing to put in an ungodly amount of hours during these events because it is very trying on everybody and [guests] are going to look toward leadership from the GM down as to how they’re going to react to these events,” he said.

He further added, “You know who you have working for you by virtue of the person’s character during these kind of events. They can be career makers and career breakers in my mind,” he said.

Winey also cautioned heavily against hotels against trying to forecast. “Other people can’t get it right don’t think you can. That’s critical because you’ll start making some real bad mistakes on your strategies as it relates to where you think a storm will go,” he noted.

Waiting to have hurricane protocols in place is another common mistake that properties make. “Most of the brands require hurricane training on the coast and do that early in the year in January or February. Don’t wait until hurricane season comes before you have that training ready to go,” commented Winey.

He cited a number of other additional things to avoid, such as leaving the power on making the hotel vulnerable to getting massive electrical surges; not properly securing equipment; not having the phone numbers of key personnel; and thinking emergency lighting is going to last forever as opposed to two to three hours.

Finally, Winey acknowledged working with other area hotels in a time of crisis is critical as well noting “they comrades not competitors. It is a band of brothers during these kind of events,” he said.

Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
Hotel Interactive®, Inc.
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