As Sandy Passes, Be Sure to Act Responsibly

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Hurricane Sandy has pummeled the eastern U.S., and like other businesses in the region, hotels are in the midst of dealing with the storm. And like all natural disasters, Sandy represents contrasting, and sometimes conflicting, emotions for hoteliers. It’s important to act responsibly to your guests and your community as you collectively deal with this crisis.

Hotels in the middle of a storm and other kinds of disasters, or in feeder markets that serve the hardest hit areas, will probably lose business. The Global Business Travel Association forecast this storm could cost the industry $600 million in business travel spending and force cancellation of 500,000 business trips. Emergency officials said as many as 10 million East Coast homes and businesses, including many hotels, could lose power during the storm.

On the other hand, hotels often benefit during natural disasters. Families without power seek shelter in hotels in their communities or at properties outside the disaster zone. By some estimates, power losses in Sandy’s hardest-hit areas could last for a week or longer, keeping hotels full for a long time. Travelers stranded in the hurricane zone, as well as utility and disaster relief workers, will add to the opportunity for business. This can be the cause for conflict among hoteliers and other businesspeople who will benefit financially while others suffer.

The appropriate response for hoteliers is to remember they have a responsibility to the public in times of peril. While obviously not government agencies, hotels are viewed as quasi-public institutions, and like it or not, hoteliers need to take this responsibility to heart.

First and foremost, it means not gouging guests, either by enforcing cancellation fees from guests who can’t fulfill their reservations or by charging unreasonably high rates for rooms, food or any other services. In many states, it’s illegal to take such advantage of the public in this way, and it’s immoral. Your responsibility also extends to staff. Many of them may not be able to make it to work during these times, either directly because of the storm or because they feel the need to protect their homes and families. You should show empathy in these situations and, where possible and justified, provide rooms for staff who may become displaced.

Natural disasters show all of us the unpredictability of life and should demonstrate the need to watch out for our fellow man in times of crisis and stress. I hope all of you in harm’s way make it through this storm and its aftermath intact and free from danger.

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