Monday, August 27, 2012

Storm Preparedness Advisory for the Hospitality Industry

Suggestions for hotels and food service establishments operating in the storm’s path

[also published on MidlandsBiz.com and Hotel News Now]

Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to reach hurricane status in the next 24 hours, and the governors of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have declared states of emergency as a hurricane warning went into effect for a roughly 300-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast.

In anticipation of the storm’s landfall, Christian Stegmaier, chair of Collins & Lacy's Retail/Hospitality Law Practice and adjunct professor of hotel and restaurant law at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail, & Sport Management, makes the following suggestions to hotels and food service establishments operating in the storm’s path:

  • Take steps before the storm to secure your physical property to minimize the effects of wind and rain.  Additionally, there needs to be a conclusive determination regarding whether your establishment can continue operations in the event of storm.  If there is any question that you can’t, this decision needs to be immediately communicated to all personnel and guests (and prospective guests who have made reservations).  Your guests and prospective guests need as much lead time as possible to make alternative arrangements in the event you determine you will not be able to operate during the storm.
  • Stay in contact with corporate risk managers and safety directors and heed their directions concerning emergency response.
  • Pull out and review your establishment’s emergency response plan with all of your personnel.  This plan should spell out what is to be done in response to natural disaster, when is to be done, and who is to do it.  Management needs to take the responsibility for ensuring all employees know the plan and execute upon it.
  • As a part of your emergency response plan, have a clear protocol in place concerning communication.  Employees need to know what is expected of them during emergency situations.  Make sure there is a way they can get the information they need (e.g., whether they need to come into work) in a reliable manner such as email, text, phone tree, or recorded telephone message.
  • In the event medical treatment is needed for either guests or employees, arrange for it.  Do not hesitate to provide this kind of assistance if needed. 
  • Communicate with your guests.  Tell them exactly what is being done to respond to the crisis.  Let them know what they need to do in the event the storm creates the situation where they need to take shelter.  As well, make sure your employees know how imperative it is to stay calm when communicating information or directions to guests.
  • Observe all published prices and rates for your hotel or food-service establishment.  Do not attempt to capitalize on a crisis by raising prices or rates on your guests.  Most states have strict anti-gouging statutes that prohibit such activity.  Violation of these statutes can be met with severe civil and criminal sanctions.
 Natural disasters such as hurricanes create stressful and potentially hazardous for everyone in its path, including hospitality providers.  By having an emergency response plan in place, executing upon it, staying in active communication with stakeholders, and being ever mindful of safety, your establishment can make the best of a difficult circumstance.

Christian Stegmaier is chairman of the Retail/Hospitality/Entertainment Practice Group at Collins & Lacy, PC, a South Carolina-based law firm that represents some of the largest national and regional leaders in the hotel, restaurant and bar, department store and specialty retail, private club, and live music presentation sectors operating in the Palmetto State.  He is also adjunct professor of hotel and restaurant law at the University of South Carolina’s nationally-acclaimed College of Hospitality, Retail & Sport Management. He is named in the 2012 Hurricane Season: Tropical Storm Isaac Edition; University of South Carolina Faculty List. Stegmaier can be reached by phone at (803) 255-0454 or by email at cstegmaier@collinsandlacy.com.

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