Recently, one of our hotel clients found its reputation under attack after two guests were found to have coronavirus.
While the hotel, FH55 Grand Hotel Palatino in Rome, made every effort to keep guests safe and informed, the story hit mainstream media, resulting in cancellations and bad online reviews.
Since then, the epidemic has spread elsewhere in Italy and around the world. With so much uncertainty and a situation that changes daily, hotels everywhere would be wise to put into place prevention and control measures as well as a communications plan.
While every hotel will have to determine its own approach, here are some general communication guidelines to consider when faced with the question of how to manage your reputation in a crisis:
1. Be Prepared
The time to prepare is now. That way, if a crisis hits, you can focus on taking action to mitigate any negative fallout. Have an updated social media policy in place that includes a crisis communications component. Outline roles and responsibilities, steps to follow, channels of communication, emergency contacts and social media log-in details.
Have a contingency plan for different scenarios. In the case of COVID-19, for example, you might plan for three main scenarios:
• The outbreak remains outside of your region.
• The epidemic spreads to your area but not to your property.
• An outbreak occurs on property.
2. Act Quickly
The quicker you respond and fix any problems within your control, the better positioned you will be to contain a crisis. However, first investigate the situation thoroughly, assess your options and evaluate the potential consequences. Be sure to consult with ownership and, if applicable, corporate office. If the risk to reputation is significant, seek professional advice from a public relations firm or lawyer.
“At the Grand Hotel Palatino, the lesson we’ve learned from this experience is to take the right precautions,” said Enzo Ciannelli, Hotel Manager. “From the beginning, we adopted all the recommendations of the health authorities … We were constantly in touch with the police and the local health authority to receive updates and instructions. All the information was immediately shared with our employees to communicate that they were safe.”
3. Publish a Response
Appoint a spokesperson, ideally the general manager or a senior manager with media skills and training. Advise staff not to speak to the media or general public. If appropriate, publish an official statement and/or FAQ on your website and social media channels, directing queries there. Strive to answer the main questions people will have, including:
• What happened?
• When and where did it happen?
• Who was affected?
• What is being done about it?
Be calm, sincere and transparent in your messaging, striving to communicate the following:
• Care “We care deeply about what happened.”
• Concern “We’re concerned about the safety and wellbeing of our guests and employees.”
• Commitment “As part of our commitment to safety and security, we’ve taken the following measures…”
Keep guests and employees updated regularly, and give staff guidelines for responding to questions from guests.
4. Prevent Misinformation
Fear and misinformation can spread quickly online, and this is particularly true of COVID-19, which has been called an “infodemic.” Refer to official sources such as government agencies and travel advisories. In the case of coronavirus, the World Health Organization provides health information, updates and travel advice.
“One of the biggest problems we faced was the media,” said Ciannelli. “The spread of fake news or incorrect information fed people’s panic and generated a kind of “mediatic terrorism.” That’s why we chose to provide only [basic] and objective information, with the aim of reassuring our customers and employees both offline and online.”
If you find yourself under attack no matter what you do or say, it might be prudent to “go dark” after publishing a response, refraining from further public commentary until things settle.
Demonstrations of compassion and goodwill will go far to building trust and protecting your reputation. If you experience cancellations, keep a long-term perspective. If you’re flexible and understanding, people will be more willing to rebook with you in the future.
5. Reach Out to Industry Partners
During a situation like coronavirus, chances are your travel industry partners will be in a similar predicament. Share information, and work together to do damage control.
“Since the problem affects the entire travel and meeting industry, we’re now moving forward together with the trade association, Federalberghi Italia, to find a common way to face the issue,” said Ciannelli. “The association has opened a discussion with the government and all the bodies in charge of the matter in order to agree on suitable and timely support measures.”
6. Restore Your Reputation
The good news is that crises often die off as quickly as they flare up. Let’s hope this is the case with COVID-19. When the dust settles, it’s time to start rebuilding your reputation.
Depending on the type of negative coverage you receive, measures may include:
• Contacting sources and politely asking them to remove content*
• Flagging and reporting misinformation on review sites and social media
• Responding to reviews and commentary
• Launching a review outreach or PR campaign to generate positive content
*Note that it’s against guidelines on TripAdvisor and other review sites to ask guests to remove reviews.
Asked what recommendations he has for other hoteliers based on his experience, Ciannelli said, “Try to return to normality and daily operation as soon as possible, reassure your guests and employees, and provide the right information to avoid fake news and panic.”
Finally, be sure to take advantage of tools for preventing and mitigating everything from a bad review to a full-blown crisis, including review monitoring, guest surveys and case management.
ReviewPro would like to offer our sympathy to all the people and businesses affected by the Coronavirus around the world. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or issues we can assist you with.
For more information about managing your brand’s reputation in a time of crisis, check out ReviewPro’s guide, Brand Attacks: Protect and Restore Your Hotel’s Online Reputation.