Growing up in Oklahoma, I learned extreme weather often equals transformation. Although my state is most known for being in the midst of Tornado Alley, we also run the weather gamut with ice storms, flooding, drought and ensuing wildfires, record-breaking heat, blizzards, and even the occasional small earthquake. While that doesn’t sound like the makings of a travel brochure, most Okies have a love/hate relationship with the weather, fascinating and frightening, tremendous and terrible, breathtaking and uncertain.
Transformation in any area of our lives can be brought on gradually or suddenly, either planned or forced upon us. Storms like Hurricane Sandy transform everything and everyone they touch. Landscapes, structures, families, and lives change in an instant, and those affected have no choice but to get up the next day and face the new condition.
This post is a look at the way the hotel guest experience changes during an emergency. My colleague, Senior Account Manager Elizabeth Robinson, was en route to help clients with technical issues when the storm hit. While this area was not hit as hard as others, the hotel had planned ahead for the storm by testing backup generators and keeping rooms blocked for staff.
She made it to her original destination at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, where she had made reservations before she knew the hurricane would hit that area. The hotel had backup generators to power the first and third floors as well as part of the kitchen. They opened those floors up to everyone, and told Elizabeth that they often have people take shelter there when the power goes out in that area.
Elizabeth says, “It was kind of scary for a while. The winds picked up a lot and things were flying all over the place. Thankfully, the power only went out a couple times and only for a couple minutes. The hotel staff was really accommodating. They made sure everyone knew where to go in case of a power outage and also explained that they would still be able to feed everyone, since they had back up generators to keep the kitchen going.” The hotel also supplied glow sticks and information on where to go if need be.
Staff who didn’t feel comfortable traveling were given the option to stay at the hotel, and they let most take off work while the weather was bad. One of the two full-service restaurants was shut down to allow more of the staff to go home.
One of the biggest transformations all of us face in times of emergency is one of self. The things we tend to have on our minds day in and day out don’t really matter so much. We are made small by the awesome power of nature, and as suddenly tiny beings, we huddle together to face whatever comes next. This is where the guest experience is transformed.
A normal day in a hotel consists of hundreds of people, all living different lives, and only intersecting in common (and often awkward) areas. The proximity of an elevator, as most of us know, does not a friendship make. Sharing a first floor with locals and stranded road warriors during a power outage, sipping drinks from the bar, and watching the wind blow and the coverage on TV? That’s a bonding experience. My colleague and her fellow travelers, after being made comfortable by hotel staff, were, for the moment, in this thing together. They were hanging out, talking about where they were from and why they were there while taking photos and videos to share with people at home.
That is an experience you don’t want to force, one we all hope to avoid. Yet, still one the Hyatt Regency owns. Their efforts not only to ensure the safety and comfort of guests, but to create an environment that facilitated the bond between them, will be a memory none of them will forget.
I asked Elizabeth what the most comforting part of her experience was. She said that it was actually nice to know she didn’t have to go anywhere. There was a coffee shop downstairs and she had her laptop for work, and she was able to relax in her room with a cup of coffee until it was time to come home.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Sandy, especially those who have lost loved ones. While we hope that the time taken to prepare for emergencies will never be needed, it’s clear that hotels play an important role, both in the community and with the travel sector, when bad things happen.