June 29, 2022

The Six P's of Preparing for the Disaster Zone, with Pete Dimaio


We are so excited to welcome Pete Dimaio, VP Of Client Success for Travel Boom Marketing, back for his second tour of duty! (Pete joined us back in March on Episode 19).  Pete is here today to talk about a very timely and important topic as many of us enter hurricane season: how to manage your marketing/communications strategy when faced with a natural disaster.   From hurricanes and tropical storms to wildfires, if you are in a vacation destination you NEED to hear Pete's candid advice along with stories from Alex & Annie's on-the-scene experience managing resort properties through several major storms.

You may have heard about the 6 P’s, “Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” 

In a disaster there's no time to think creatively and properly address the situation. You must create a comprehensive plan before disaster strikes.

This vacation rental disaster planning guide will consist of the following:

  • On Site Content
  • Email Communications
  • Social Communications
  • PPC and Meta Search Management
  • PR Outreach
  • Guest and Community Assistance

As a vacation rental manager or short term rental host, your job is to help others and be hospitable, and your disaster communications/marketing plan should be based on being empathetic to your guests and those in trouble.  Everything you communicate should be from a helping perspective.  This includes being flexible with your policies.  In times of a disaster you want your guests to know your pet policy is flexible, your cancellation policy is flexible, your check out times are flexible.  By being a great member of your community you can come through disaster stronger and more resilient then ever before.

This is a must-listen episode!

CONTACT PETE DIMAIO
Travel Boom Marketing
Vice President - Director Client Services & Marketing
pete.dimaio@travelboommarketing.com
TravelBoomMarketing
LinkedIn

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Pete DiMaio is the vice president and director of marketing at TravelBoom. With TravelBoom, Pete takes an analytics approach to hotel marketing and works tirelessly to ensure his clients are able to drive occupancy, increase RevPAR, and improve direct bookings; all while providing a granular level of reporting that proves the return on investment. Pete has over two decades of experience in hospitality marketing from both the traditional and digital sides of the business. Pete is active in the hospitality community both with HSMAI and as the host of the Hotel Marketing Podcast.

Transcript
Unknown:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. With more than 35 years combined industry experience. Alex user and any Holcomb have teamed up to connect the dots between inspiration and opportunity, seeking to find the one story idea, strategy or decision that led to their guests big aha moment. Join them as they highlight the real stories behind the people and brands that have built vacation rentals into the $100 billion industry it is today. And now it's time to get real and have some fun with your hosts, Alex and Annie.

Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we are joined today with Pete DeMaio of travel boom marketing to cover a very timely and important topic as we enter hurricane season. And actually this is Pete second time on the show, which this makes him the first guest to come back for a second round. So we're excited one that he would even come back. First fortunate we put him through. Pete joined us for episode 19 If you didn't hear it, which was back in March, and he shared with us the top five things that vacation rentals can learn from hotels. And if you don't already know Pete besides that, or just know him in general, he is also a fellow podcaster. And a few years ago, he did a podcast on his show the hotel marketing podcast about how marketers should prepare for a disaster, and the planning guide and communications that need to be put in place ahead of time so that when the disaster strikes, you are prepared. And as Sam goes proper planning prevents piss poor performance. So with that, Pete, welcome back to the show.

Pete DiMaio:

Thank you so much. And I appreciate you guys inviting me back, not the other way around. Because I know that I can take podcasts off the track really easily. So I'm excited about getting back on here for this one. Well,

Annie Holcombe:

we're really glad to have you. And it's actually very timely that you're coming Alex when I we were just at the vrma executive summit in West Palm a couple of weeks ago and got hit with a tropical storm. And funnily enough, the Tropical Storm was called Alex. So we decided

Alex Husner:

it came in like a wrecking ball.

Annie Holcombe:

It did. And we decided we were going to do our own weather report while we were there. And the planet certainly aligned and gave us an opportunity to as they say go viral on our social media. So it was a lot of fun. Had a lot of good conversation with people about weather and how that affects our industry. And so having you back here just fell right in good timing.

Alex Husner:

Hold on. I think we have to tell the story. You're good. A lot of our listeners saw the video. And I think it's worth telling the story because it was one of those kinds of crazy things that that even happened. But we're about to leave the summit and we get we get news alerts that tropical storm Alex has come in and almost everybody had left the summit. Besides Annie and I we plan to stay for a day. So we're there and I don't know, Pete, you probably remember it was during Hurricane Florence. I think that it was somewhere local. I think it was in Wilmington, that the guy, I think it was like Jim Cantori he was on the news. And he was just being extremely dramatic that the wind was blowing. And you know, it was just awful. And the two guys just walked by casually and just blew up. And so you and I are sitting there and there's no one left at the event and we're having a couple glasses of wine and we said you know, let's let's go out there. Let's try and recreate this. So we tried, we tried to do it. But again, as she said stars align, our camera wasn't working. And so this couple walked by us and we asked, you know, can you just help us with this video? And their first comment was they said, Oh, no, no, I don't. I'm not buying any timeshare. I'm not interested. I'm not trying to sell your timeshare. We just need you to help with this video. So when we showed him what we wanted to do, the guy said, Well, you just couldn't pick the better people. My aunt, the lady who's with she is a director from Hollywood. And she was she was on she was the star of the TV show in the early 2000s. Black scorpion. Is that right? Yeah, I think like scorpion. Yes. Michelle, Michelle Linto. If you Google her she's very beautiful woman. So she got really into this with us. And if you haven't seen the video, you can find that on our if you go over to our YouTube channel, make sure to subscribe while you're there, too. It's on our LinkedIn, it's everywhere. But she got really into we thought we had a kind of a cool idea. She was directing us very seriously in that whole process. And it just kind of went crazy. But meanwhile, there were a couple people from the show that were still there. Anthony Gannt from atease.com. He was watching us from afar on the balcony. And he says later he said, I had no idea that I was on the phone and I was telling somebody, Alex and Annie are in the middle of the storm. Absolute Literally like being crazy with these two random people. So we call it we call it a little bit of a ruckus there for a short amount of time, but it was a lot of fun.

Pete DiMaio:

That's what happens when Hurricane Alex comes into town.

Annie Holcombe:

And we did, we did get directed by a Hollywood director. So we're like, semi famous now.

Pete DiMaio:

You have to put that on your resume.

Alex Husner:

That this will be the moments we look back on in time. But we had already planned to do this episode with Pete. But when that happened, we're like, this is just too funny. And we've got to make sure that we get Pete scheduled here in June and we get this release. Because, you know, back to all seriousness, we are in hurricane season. And Annie, you've lived through a very, very terrible hurricane, Hurricane Michael. And you've seen the disaster that it causes. So being prepared is key.

Annie Holcombe:

Absolutely, absolutely. So I think at this point, Pete, you've prepared some kind of points of order and things that we should all be aware of. So I think we just kind of dive right in and see what you have for us. Yeah, yep.

Pete DiMaio:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think you said earlier, this is definitely very timely, we're coming into hurricane season. You know, everyone says that hurricane season is either busy, or a non event based on if a storm actually hits. But the reality is, every year, there's dozens of tropical storms, there's many hurricanes, whether they make landfall or not, is almost irrelevant to a hoteliers perspective, because so much of what's going to actually be the disaster is going to be the communications, there's going to be the news cycle, it's gonna be all the things that kind of go along with the storm, and I hate say the theatrics of a hurricane. But you were talking about before how you know, Jim Cantori, will lean in on a storm and people are just walking behind him, you have to account for that type of thing. And with this, my article here, which is disaster planning, communications guide for hotels, is not so much about on the operation side. The assumption is, your hotel or your vacation rental program all has the operation side pretty much nailed down. This is more about the communication side and the marketing side and what you need to be doing as a hotelier or a vacation rental manager, to make sure you're getting out in front of the potential disaster. And first and foremost, you're helping, and you're being a conduit for information, you're being a conduit for truthful information, and are able to be a servant to people in a in a really difficult time of need. But potentially. So that's kind of where this article all kind of stems from. And Alex, you mentioned it, it's all based on the six P's, which is proper planning prevents piss poor performance, if you don't put the time in in advance, you are going to be one of the many people who might be displaced, or trying to play catch up, if you take some time now, put it in place, regardless of if that disasters a hurricane, in the times we're talking about now, an earthquake or fire, whatever it might be, as long as you have this plan, it's very easy in time of a disaster to open up your notebook. And tailor your plan for the specific event that you're dealing with at the moment,

Alex Husner:

right, yeah, and it's always a fluid situation. So there's some things that are gonna have to be changed on the fly, depending on what is going on at the time. But in our area, Pete, we've had a really unique set of storms with I think we had six or seven years there straight, where we either had a hurricane or a major flood or water event that it was really, we haven't been hit by a hurricane here badly. But it was all the flooding. That was the major issue for our destination, which was pretty unique. Because this was, you know, we were here, nothing was wrong, but nobody could get to us. And we were essentially on an island. That very last year. So there's a lot of different things that have to be put into place. But getting this plan ahead of time is it'll save you a lot of headache, and it'll make things much more efficient for your company, your guests and your homeowners.

Pete DiMaio:

Yep. And, you know, I think one thing to kind of make a note of as well is, you know, as we're building out this plan, understand that people they kind of suck at geography is the best way.

Alex Husner:

All of North and South Carolina are all in Florida, right? Well,

Pete DiMaio:

in the funny thing is many times I think it was it was Florence, or one of the ones I hit recently where we had a ton of flooding. Yeah, people would say, oh, you know, I saw that Myrtle Beach, I hit really hard. How was the rest of Florida? Actually, you know, several 100 miles. Were fine. So it's very important to understand that the customer that you're talking to and your audience may need to get back, take a step back and really go over where you're located at and like I said, be that servant to help educate your guests or potential guests.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely.

Pete DiMaio:

So So basically,

Annie Holcombe:

when I want to just throw in there one thing that I've experienced, and it's relevant to like any disaster, and I think we've seen it a lot, just in general is the fake news that gets out there. And so again, you know, the social media aspect of it the conversations that people have, and people again, they don't know geography. So what they might have seen something that could have happened literally in Italy, but they're thinking it happened here, because they just see it in the news. And they just like, they grasp onto like a little tidbit of the story. So many good, it's very important. All of that we're going to talk about today about being concise and and having that message drafted before anything does strike.

Alex Husner:

I'm pretty sure everybody at the Palm Coast of Florida thought that tropical storm Alex was the biggest storm. That's

Annie Holcombe:

pretty much.

Pete DiMaio:

All right, well, cool. So So I think the first thing to say is during a disaster, I think this is the very salient point is during a disaster, it is not your job to sell rooms, or to capitalize on the event. Right? That is this is not the right time to be doing that. Yeah, your plan is really to be a true servant. And when you think of a true hotelier, it's someone who's bending over backwards to help their guests and community. And that is really what we want to do if something like this is coming. And so what we did is we kind of broke out, say, kind of building on whole six P's, we have six bullet points of things that a hotelier should focus on when they're building out that disaster communications plan. And we'll kind of go through these briefly. But the first one is your on site content, followed by your email communications, in that email communications is also other communications to your guests phone, whatever it might be. Your social channels, your PR, your pay per click and meta management and things that you're spending money for that you might need to pause. And then lastly, but probably out almost puts at the beginning, your guest in your community assistance, what you're doing to actually help be a solution and not be someone who's you're part of the problem.

Alex Husner:

Yep. Great. All great points. So on site content, what what, what type of on site content? Should vacation rental managers and marketers be thinking about in this time?

Pete DiMaio:

I would say the first thing to think about is, where are you in relation geographically to this event? Are you inside the disaster zone? Are you outside the disaster zone, if you're inside of it, your communications plan is gonna be a lot different than those on the outside. And you for all of the things that we're gonna talk about today, we're gonna look at it from both directions on the inside versus outside, let's really kind of focus on inside the disaster zone for now outside, it's gonna be more about just helping helping helping the people in trouble. But if you're inside the disaster zone, the very first thing you want to do is make sure that you've updated your site to be specific to the event. So if you have if you can set homepage alerts, if you can have current conditions in your locations, if you have a webcam, those are phenomenal tools that you can put front and center on your website, so that people can see kind of what's happening in your area. Again, the job here is not to be selling rooms, if it's a hurricane, don't do that. Nobody wants to come visit your property in a hurricane, right. But what they're coming for is information. And that's something that luckily, you're in the right place where you can share that great information. So put it together in advance, get the templates ready, so that if something does happen, you can be that person who's providing great content on your site, that's going to help everybody.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, I think without knowing what the actual situation will be ahead of time, just you know, simple things like on our site, we have a banner that goes at the very top of the website that that can be deployed immediately if we need to, we have a templated page that we've used in past storms that I can just update with information. But I mean, really, what you want to do is you want to make sure that your guests, if they come to your site, and they can get the information they need there, that cuts down on the time that's going to take your team to handle phone calls, emails, social media, I mean, people are going to be coming at you in every different direction. But the more information you can give at the primary hub of where they're going to go, the better that's going to start the same.

Pete DiMaio:

Yeah, and that disaster plan when you open up that notebook, and you review the content. This is like you said, Alex, this is all the content you can write in advance, you know, the, the position of let's say it's a hurricane, you know, what people are doing on the scene where disaster response assistance can come from, have all that written out because like you said, media is going to be reaching out to you, you're gonna be had to focus on operational issues. If you can plan in advance and offload all of that kind of creative thinking of how you can help in advance, then it makes life so much easier for you. It makes you more calm in a time of very high stress.

Annie Holcombe:

And I think one thing that's really important to kind of looking at it from the vacation rental perspective is you got also need to make sure that you have someone who can handle the owner conversations and the owner managing, that's really important because obviously, you're not only trying to look out for the safety of the guests, and the people who had been here are here and you're trying to get them out, and obviously, your staff, but you're also trying to protect someone's big investment. So you have to make sure that you have a plan for that communication. I know, in my experience, several companies, once a storm was kind of we were in the cone, you know, that cone of possibility, we would start communicating with owners eblasts going out on a regular basis, and then have conversations with board presidents, like have conference calls with them. And so I think again, that's just another strategy that people need to be mindful of that, you know, you're, it's, it's the guest, absolutely. It's your community. Absolutely. But you have all these these owners and investors that are part of your company that have a different message and a different worry. And

Alex Husner:

yeah, and then depending on the depending on the time of year of when this hits, I mean, in the offseason, we're probably not super full at that point, right, the owners reaching out that we get as many if not more communications from them asking questions as we do from people that are here staying. So the number one thing we tell them, we're, we're taking everything off your balcony, don't worry. And we're putting it in the condo, this is a fluid situation, we're going to keep you updated, but just just at least starting so that they know you are going to keep them updated. start that process so that they're not having to reach out to you and then they get frustrated because you're not able to respond.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, I think a lot of a lot of our you know, listeners are people that don't necessarily have on site management, they are you know, they have a unit in a building. So, so you need to make sure that you have a plan. Again, beforehand of who's that point of contact at each one of those buildings, whether it be the onsite manager or the HOA, you know this, that's just another component to keep in mind.

Pete DiMaio:

And I think what you bring up a good point is proactively reaching out to you in case of vacation rental, you have multiple people who are interest concern, you have your owners, but you also have your your visitors. And when you think about the amount of stress that you have to go through, before you say you know what, I'm gonna have to call somebody you that builds up for a while, and that person is already getting frustrated, getting annoyed getting concerned and scared. Yeah, if you can reach out to them before they even know that a storm is out there, potentially say, hey, just so you know, this is out there, this is what we're doing to resolve the issue. So many times people's concern and fear comes from not knowing, knowing. And if you can address that in advance, not only are you setting a better precedent for your guests, you're creating a situation where a homeowner would be crazy to use another vacation rental company because you took such good care of them when they needed

Alex Husner:

it. And that's a really good point. And that's just I mean driving home, the the local, you know, influence that you have an ability to serve your homeowners, I think that's a great point. Yep.

Pete DiMaio:

If I haven't counted on the site in advance, you're already farther ahead. So you can start doing those things in reach out. So that kind of brings us so once you have the content on the website, now you need to start telling people about it. And that's where you I have it called email communications in my article. But that's however you decide to communicate with the guests. It could be text, it could be email, it could be physical phone call, but make sure that we just talked about this, you're being proactive. And you're pushing this information out. If I'm a property owner, or I'm a guest, you cannot send me too much information, right about a massive investment if it's a vacation investment, or if it's a Yeah, actual real property investment.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And when you think about I mean, your your click through rates and conversion or not conversion, but just engagement on emails, during stay leading up to somebody staying those get substantially more than regular email marketing, you know, type campaign. So it's the same thing in this situation, the more you tell people, the better, they're going to read all of it. I mean, everybody feels like a sponge in these situations, because we just want to make sure we know everything we possibly can. But a lot of that a lot of that content, you can be repurposing from other local sources. So your chamber of commerce or the Weather Service, or I mean, there's different news outlets, like a lot of it, you can just be repurposing from your local sources.

Pete DiMaio:

And that is completely true. Your job as a marketer is not to be the sole source of the content. Your job is to be the conduit of the content that's out there. Yeah. So if you know, in our case, we have a weather forecaster, Ed Piotroski, who's like, the guy as it relates to hurricanes in our area, if far, be it from us to, you know, make recommendations right forecast just reposting his information or sending out one email that has helpful links for all this information that we'd recommend. Yeah, you can go so far.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, and I think also too, you know, In past, again, we've linked over to the EEOC and the EEOC is in any community, the Emergency Operations Center, I think is what they call it. You know, they have updates when things are happening, and they will generally meet every, you know, three hours based on if they're out there flying around in a hurricane to get updates, but they're gonna post updates too. And so you can if you can have links on your site to trusted media sources that you know that those facts and those updates are going to get updated. Timely, again, like your local weather guy, he's, you know, he's the guy you go to link off to that weather station links Emergency Operation Center link to the National Hurricane Center, like, you know, or again, whatever disaster entity is kind of overseeing the community preparations for it. Yeah,

Pete DiMaio:

yep. And then one thing I'd also add to this is that we're talking about things are inside the disaster zone. If you're outside the disaster zone, you're going to be very tempted to say, oh, people can't visit this location, I'm going to give them an opportunity to visit my location. Don't do that. That is, yeah, that's being opportunistic. And that is the exact opposite, that you want to do. Instead of saying,

Alex Husner:

or good, no, good, good.

Pete DiMaio:

I say instead of trying to be the person who's optimistic, optimistic and get as many bookings as she can, how about just roll up your sleeves and say, Hey, here's what our hotels or property is doing to help those in the disaster zone. You know, here's our food drives, here's how we're running water. And here's how we're raising money, whatever it might be. This is your time to, to help. Because the people who help at the end of the day are the ones who are going to be rewarded after the event.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, I will say I think during that last storm that we had a couple of years ago, our Myrtle Beach area did a phenomenal job at that. I mean, some of the major hotel groups, they did like $39 a night rooms for, you know, first respondents and people trying to flood or get get out of North Carolina, which was hit much worse than we were. And we were supposed to be at the brunt of that storm, but it just went further north, but we, you know, adjusted the, you know, the sales and tried to help everybody as much as we could. But I do also remember Pete, from the episode that you did, you and your family went to Atlanta, I think during that storm, and everybody that a lot of people went to Atlanta, but the hotel prices there were absolutely insane, because they were doing the opposite of what you're, you're telling us they were really trying to take advantage of the situation. And it was the same thing. If you went to Columbia or Raleigh, I mean, the regular hotel prices for just a basic room were like four or $500 a night and that's awful. I mean, people are leaving their jobs. They're They're scared. And it's just not the time to be trying to revenue manage and make money on this situation.

Pete DiMaio:

Yeah. Because at the end of the day, people aren't going there for fun. They're going there because they have to, and you can use that as an opportunity to create a lifelong guest. Yeah, bring him back. Yeah. Like like so for instance, the Atlanta Braves. This is several years ago, but they were phenomenal. Yeah. So when you we got to Atlanta, we actually booked a couple rooms, because we weren't sure where we're going to evacuate to. And we weren't going to Atlanta. But the Braves had free entry to the game. A a fun area for the kids free food they provide all kinds of all you have to do is show that you had a driver's license from an area impacted by the storm. Yeah, and they just bent over backwards. As a result, our family went back there for a vacation, just to check it out. Because we had such a good warm feeling. And they made us feel comfortable in a time that was very uncomfortable for us.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. And I think again, you know, one thing that people overlook in these situations is that when people are evacuating to you, or you're evacuating, it's a psychological thing. I mean, it's very stressful for those people that have to evacuate. So if you do find yourself in a situation where you are, you know, either evacuating or hosting and evacuating, you know, give them grace. And I understand that they're under so much stress, because they don't know what's going on where they came from, and what they're going back to. And so you know, I think it's a great reciprocal, you want to just make sure that you're fostering again, going back to being hospitable.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah. That's what we all do. At the end of the day. We are supposed to be hospitable. Yeah. The time to show it. Well, what's what's next Pete? What's the third? P? It's not so.

Pete DiMaio:

So what's the third bullet point? So from there, you want you have your email planned out? Think about your social campaigns and your communication management? Beyond just the the email side? Yeah. So first and foremost, if you're looking at all your paid campaigns from a social perspective, and pause, anything you're paying money for, because odds are all the traffic you're getting from a social perspective. All of the engagement is not to book their next vacation, right? And it's not going to have a return. So let's save your money for after the storm and focus on the helping side. But also you plan to increase your post frequency significantly? Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And I would also say, you know, here is this is not necessarily for unique content either. And it's definitely not time for speculation. This is the time for, you know, resharing expert opinion, or expert forecast, and also helping people who have questions, you know, so, so be have a very high engagement level and be a helper.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, I think making sure that somebody is checking your social media accounts, frequently for messages, that's super important. And as people, our guests are going to be asking you all the questions there. And you know, really, you know, pausing your ads, if you don't pause your ads, if you forget to do that, that's going to spur more messages, because a lot of people are going to see them and get very angry. And I remember there's one storm that we had forgotten to turn some on, off, I'm sorry. And we just had a bunch of guests are like, I can't believe you're telling us to come to North Myrtle Beach right now. There's a hurricane there. And we weren't trying to but we we learned our lesson on that one. So yeah, making sure that you pause your ads for sure.

Annie Holcombe:

Yes, I think on that note, one thing that I think people forget is you know, the stuff, you have stuff that you're in control of from any any of your advertising, but then you have stuff that you've contracted with other vendors to run advertising. And you have to make sure that the person that's going to be overseeing all of this has the full calendar in front of them. So they know what's being deployed. And because it could be a situation where ad might not be running, but it might launch, you know, a campaign. And, you know, we've been in a situation where we were part of some VISIT FLORIDA campaigns, and they launched right in the middle of something. Yeah. And then the phone started ringing. And people were like, again, to your point, why are you telling us to come here, but it was something we had signed up for six, seven months prior, and just didn't think about it. So it's again, it's it's really having a 30,000 foot view of all of your marketing and all of your materials and when they're going to be out. And if there's anything that kind of falls in that zone of concern, you know, make sure that you're addressing, you know, either through your contact at that media site or source to deposit

Pete DiMaio:

in any, that's exactly why you want to have that plan in advance. Because you know, when the storm is 48 hours from hitting, or whatever it might be, you have other things on your mind, you're not going to be able to stop and say, oh, let's go ahead and review my 2022 media plan and see what changed. Yeah, but if you have a checklist that says, you follow up with this, follow up with this follow up with this. Either you can do that yourself. Or you can hand that off to somebody and say, Hey, I just need this taken care of. So you can focus on other other areas, either operationally or marketing wise. Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. Right. So. So from a social perspective, I would say you be out there be engaging, don't be opportunistic, and just share factual information as much as possible.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, I think you know, the hurricanes or just disasters in general, I don't know about South Carolina can speak for Florida, we kind of make fun of it. You know, we have them so frequently, that there's a lot of memes that get shared. And I think you have to make sure that you're mindful of not letting some of those memes creep in again, Oh, yeah. It can be off putting, especially to owners, how could you guys be joking about this? And it's like, yeah, it's fun and games for people that live in that situation on some levels just for sanity. But you have to be mindful that the humor needs to be somewhat left out of the equation.

Alex Husner:

Now, one thing that's not on the list here, and I'm not sure which category it would fall into, but I mean, it's slightly operational, but also marketing. A lot of the inquiries that we get during this time as people reaching out, whether it's on social media or emailing us, asking, you know, can I reschedule, can I get my money back and I whatever cancel, you need to make sure that plan, whatever it is that you determine is clearly communicated to the staff and to the people that are going to be monitoring the social media, so that you have that plan? I mean, if they don't have the ability to answer or give a verdict on every reservation, who did it? Who does the guests need to contact? If they need to call the office? If the office is going to be close? What do they do? Are you telling them to wait until next week, once everybody, hopefully the storm has passed, but just figuring that out ahead of time, because I know, as a marketer, that's always been something that has been a little bit stressful on some of the storms is, you know, there's just so many different variables and whether somebody has travel insurance or doesn't have travel insurance, what the reservation is, and there's no way that our marketing team can answer all those questions, but just making sure that you have the plan in place for who you need to be directing people to for the information.

Pete DiMaio:

Yeah. And I think that's a really good point. And in operations in marketing, we always talk about breaking down those silos. That's a perfect place where yeah, that needs to be broken down in advance. So the marketing team knows knows what to say. Yeah. And that's the other thing too is you as you're communicating from an email perspective, or from a social as the storm is ending. Continue that communication process, right. Let people know the storm has passed, use use photos, use video and show actually what's happening in the property. You always have to think that you know the news Their job is impressions. Their job is engagement and making the event seem as big of a deal as it possibly is

Alex Husner:

always shining once everything's better. Yeah, I

Pete DiMaio:

mean, the best day to visit the beach is always the day after Hurricane because it's no humidity. It's Yeah, beautiful day. Yeah. But the news is going to want to harp on disaster disaster disaster. If that's not the case. Don't pump up your location recklessly. But if there's nothing wrong, share the photos, share the video and let people know Hey, we're back open for business. Yeah, if you had a reservation, now's a great time to stay with us.

Alex Husner:

And even like you said about the webcam, I think just having a webcam on your website, there's a million different benefits to why you want to have that. But in this situation, you can be directing people back to it to see exactly when to see what's going on live, go to our webcam, don't watch the weather channel, watch our webcam. But I know during the hurricanes, our webcam page, the visits just went through the roof. I mean, our traffic was unbelievable. But I mean, the the good thing that that produces, if somebody finds that during a hurricane, you kind of become the source of truth for other things at that point. So webcam has a lot of a lot of different benefits, but one of them.

Pete DiMaio:

So perfect. So so next thing I would say is and this is a brief one, but your pay per click, you're better search campaigns and your other paid campaigns. Yeah, turn them off. Turn them off. Because then nobody's gonna be able to book and there's no reason to drive people to those pages. Yeah. Just as important as turning them off, is turning them back on. Oh, my gosh, yeah, that happens a lot. Yeah, someone's Hey, we got to pause the campaign. Yeah. And then days go by, oh, you know what, we probably should turn that back on.

Alex Husner:

It's almost like as part of this checklist, you want to list out all the sites where you have ads running that it might not just be the typical Google and Bing like Myrtle beach.com or, you know, your local portal, Seidman, there's a lot of different places where you can turn ads on and off, make sure that that's listed out ahead of time. Because one thing you have to consider too, if you're the marketer, that you make this list for yourself, God forbid, I mean, you might because of the storm, not be able to be the one that is executing on doing this. So you want that workflow of how this all works to be as clear and concise with instructions and contact info as possible, so that if somebody else on the team has to pick up these duties, they know exactly what to do.

Pete DiMaio:

Yep. And that's it. The last thing on that note, particularly from a paid side, is, if you have an agency or you have some that you can hand this off to make sure that any campaigns that are running or will be running, that you're being very cognizant of your negative keywords, you don't want the let's say I'm outside the disaster zone. I don't want someone doing a search in where it's a Myrtle Beach. In this case, I don't want someone doing a search for Jacksonville, and getting an ad for Myrtle Beach that could come across as being very opportunistic, right, and make it look like we're taking advantage of people in another market, just because they have disaster heading there. So So kind of keep that in mind. Even if you're outside the disaster zone. You do want to look at your campaigns and make sure that you're not, you know, being the bad guy.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Pete DiMaio:

So alright, so kind of from there. Before we jump into guests and community assistance, I want to real quickly talk about the PR side and the outreach. Because this is very important in advance of a event, making sure you know who your media contacts are. What can you be doing to proactively reach out to local and regional media contacts, to provide to make yourself a point of contact to help

Annie Holcombe:

you build up that you build up that trust. So the next time something happens, they're going to contact you and yeah, source of source of truth for your destination? That's a really good point.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. Is it just a good media strategy overall, not to try and capitalize on these things. But the more that you can work with your local media on any kind of events like that, or news, making sure they know how to contact you, you do you do become the trusted source. And I think we've we've been able to do that in a lot of cases in the last couple years. And it's it's great that they come to us now. And they ask for our take on things. So it's an easy strategy that it doesn't take a whole lot of work, and it doesn't cost anything.

Pete DiMaio:

Right. Yeah. And here's the thing, too, is see we talked about, we're gonna be very busy in times of a disaster, but the media is also they have a million different signals coming in. And if you can make their job easy by saying, Here's a webcam, you know, here's the photos that we're gonna be posting on an ongoing basis. Here's our plan. And here's what how you can take advantage of those tools. It makes it very easy for a news outlet to just come to you get information, get a quote and run with their story.

Alex Husner:

Here's one thing that happened during COVID And I think it probably has happened during the storms too, but it's most fresh in my mind from COVID When we were dealing with when we were in the phase where we didn't know if we were going to be refunding money or changing reservations or, you know, anything that was going on at that time, a lot of guests were reaching out to the local media and saying, you know, I can't get my money back, what do I do and like that, that became just its own disaster in itself. But we ended up with worked closely with a couple of media sources at that at that time that came to us. And we were actually able to correct some issues with guests that they had been told something early on, when we didn't really have the whole plan in place, because nobody didn't think of it, we were able to correct some situations because they had gone to the media. But that's, you know, just to get the message out there properly, because the media can also spin things the wrong way, as we all know, you don't want them telling the wrong story that you know, hoteliers, and vacation rental managers, they're just not being supportive of the people that are in the zone, just because they just don't have the right information on what's going on. Yeah, but to your point, you know, about kind of nurturing that relationship, I think that if you become the source of someone, you know, for the media to contact that, you know, it's a reciprocal relationship. That way, when somebody does contact them with something that an angry guests or an angry visitor,

Annie Holcombe:

they're gonna say, wait a minute, before I do this story, let me call Alex and ask him what's really going on before we do anything with it. And, and that's important, because you can get ahead of something quick before it happens.

Alex Husner:

And it is a challenge also, because in our market, I'm sure what everybody else has to the turnover of reporters as media stations is expand. I mean, it's all the time, there's always new blood coming in. So it's a challenge. But if you can find somebody kind of a little bit higher up that you can keep in touch with that isn't getting turned over often that they can be at least pointing their reporters in the right direction. That's good strategy. All right. Hey,

Pete DiMaio:

so the last thing I have is on the guest and community assistance. In my mind, this is where hoteliers have a very, very unique opportunity to step up and be a community leader. When it is you know, to go back to the you know, COVID saying of now more than ever, this is a time where together Yeah, exactly. This is the time for for a hotelier to say you know I have most likely if you're on a coast, you have a hurricane in a FEMA compliant type facility, you probably have some type of f&b operation, you have rooms, you have workspace. So you have all the tools to help people in the disaster zone. But you also have the tools that people are evacuating to have a safe place to stage. So So become that leader, and open your doors as much as possible to the community. This is so important, because this is one not only the right thing to do. And I think adult day we all have to go to sleep and, and feel good about what we were doing in life. And this is a great way to do that. But it's also just a great way to to help the community and to build that goodwill. That's always it's karma. It is just gonna come back at you. Yeah,

Annie Holcombe:

I have. So most recently with Hurricane Michael, a few years ago, it was really interesting, because people tend to think that hurricanes hit the coasts, and it's just the beachfront that gets you know, devastated. And in our case, it was really more inland, the beach itself kind of was a little our beach anyway, was a little bit away from the center, so they didn't get a lot of damage. And so for the locals that live in the community that actually work at these properties, we had to evacuate after you know, my husband, and we moved out there after five, six days with no power and water, we finally went out there and stayed in a condo for a week and week and a half. But, you know, you will become a source for your, your greater, you know, community, not just that the people that are right there on the beach, or right there on the coast, it could be 50 miles inland and again, you know, they're gonna remember that and it's all about just at the end of the day, it's just about being just a good human. And like you said, karma is going to karma is going to help you and, and I will never forget the the people that hosted us. I mean, they didn't charge us to stay with them. You know, we stayed for well over a week. And they were great. And just again, empathetic and understood that everybody in the community was suffering and they just opened their doors graciously to do it. So

Pete DiMaio:

I think a big part of that is whether you're inside or outside the disaster area, or the danger zone, I think we've talked it's very timely. Yeah, you want to be very flexible, because you don't know the moment that's gonna be the best time for you to step up and be a leader or just be someone who's a facilitator. You may find that you need to help your employees with the places that you may find out that in the case of Florence years ago, you may need to be a place that's a staging area for making sandbags and distributing sandbags, to the riverfront areas. You don't know But it's gonna be but if you keep your nose to be in the media understand what's happening and say, You know what, I'm a hotelier but I'm also just remember the community and I can step up and you open up my f&b operation and have a soup kitchen, whatever it might be, look outside of what you're comfortable with, and help because nobody's comfortable. So you might as well be uncomfortable. Everybody else, but at least you're you're

Alex Husner:

rolling it together. Yeah, yeah.

Pete DiMaio:

But I think if we kind of have this plan in advance, yeah, we kind of laid out it. By having the other things taken care of, it makes a lot easier for you to be a great helper to the community, and be able to contribute it because everyone else is gonna be worried about checking those boxes that we've already taken care of.

Alex Husner:

Right, and just even having the blueprint that, you know, there's gonna be copy. And there's gonna be parts of this, that you're gonna have to write in the moment, but having the blueprint that at least alleviate some of the stress ahead of time. So you have that checkbox, and you don't forget anything. I mean, just simple things like, of course, turn your PPC and your your meta ads off, but turn them back on. That's such a great point. Just little things like that, that if you forgot about it, and you find out a week later, you're going to be kicking yourself, but and then reaching out to the owners, once everything is done, and letting them know that you know, whatever the outcome was, and how you're going to handle the rescheduling and the cancellations and any damage. That's kind of the ending to hopefully what was not a really bad danger zone. Quickly,

Annie Holcombe:

one thing I would add is that I've done in the past to is those guests that are going to be coming in in the next you know, 1014 days, proactively reach out to them and let them know, you know, and they may not be paying attention because again, they're thinking, Oh, that storm is two weeks before my vacation. It didn't even enter their mind to worry about it so you can proactively reach out to them to let them know like, hey, we did have a storm everything's fine. Today, I think that's important too. And again, it goes back to just being in communication with people. So there's no doubt and there's no worry. In their mind.

Alex Husner:

We always we always have one campaign that works has worked for all of them. The coast is clear. North Myrtle Beach chamber launched that during I think Hurricane Matthew or after Hurricane Matthew. And then that kind of just became the staple tagline for all of us once the coast is clear. But I will say I'm Pete, you probably remember this too. There was some controversy with people saying The coast is clear when it actually wasn't clear. Like it was done ahead of time. And that wasn't because they scheduled the emails wrong. That was because they were trying to get people back to the beach. Yeah, too early. But I think in that case, it was because the roads were flooded that Technically, yes, it's beautiful weather. But if people tried to get here they were gonna get stuck in their cars. Yeah.

Pete DiMaio:

Yeah. Not the time to

Alex Husner:

don't jump the gun. Right, the Top Gun and the danger zone. So you're really trying to fit that in here. Top Gun is in theaters right now. So disaster zone.

Pete DiMaio:

I think we're having this plan. I think if we first wrote this article back in 2018, and we've been evolving it ever since. Everything we talked about, was put into place when COVID hit. So we're talking about a Yeah, yeah, we're talking about things like in case of a, in this case, a hurricane. But those same strategies, were the ones that we use when COVID first hit, and we had to, you know, change our pay strategies. We had to reach out to the community, we had to do all the things that had to get done anyway. Yeah. But at least we had a starting point. And we went through and crossed out hurricane and wrote in pandemic COVID.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah, one perfect example of that went during the last hurricane, we made a document that had the contact information of all of the HOAs and we're we're in we've got approximately 500 condos but that's within 120 different buildings. So I mean, there's a lot of different companies that manage all the properties that we had to make sure our information and contact was was accurate when COVID hit that was so helpful to have that because the main issue we had was that some of the HOAs were not opening the pools or some are opening the pools but not the hot tub similar having chairs on the deck but not this not that in a lazy river and trying to manage that was that was probably that was that was as complicated as managing a hurricane communication plan because there's so many different properties and that guests were just going nuts asking us questions about that. So that was great to have that document in place already with the contact information and a spreadsheet already prepared for a different reason. But you know, what is open what is not open? What services are there? So just get that ahead of time. It'll help you no matter what. Yeah, it's

Annie Holcombe:

kind of timely for any disaster many just having that frame. When you said that having that framework, yep. And you just, you know, pivot based on what the actual circumstances are.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, this was a great episode been a great discussion. And I love that this is your you're the first guest to come back the second time. And I hope that we'll have you back many other times because you've got just such a wealth of information. And you've shared a lot of this previously in your, on your blog, travel, blue marketing and on the hotel Marketing podcast. And so there's just a lot of great topics that are 100% relevant for us as vacation rental managers and marketers. So we're going to be thinking of the next one that we want to pull you back in on. We don't know what it is yet. But we'll be having you back as our subject matter expert.

Pete DiMaio:

Absolutely. I'm honored to be on the show and even more honored to be invited back when I

Alex Husner:

am. Yeah, absolutely. How can our listeners find you and your podcasts what's the best way?

Pete DiMaio:

So the best way is checkout travel Boom marketing.com. From there, if you go to shop food marketing.com/podcast You'll see all the episodes of the hotel Marketing podcast. In addition to being able to find it on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play wherever you get podcast. Definitely check it out. Listen to it. A lot of times, we'll reference the content that we wrote you in this case, you we wrote this article, disaster planning communication guide for hotels,

Alex Husner:

and we'll land on the show notes to some Thank you.

Pete DiMaio:

But yeah, if you want to connect with us, you can also find us on typically LinkedIn is the best way at travel blue marketing to to connect and learn a bit more about what we do.

Alex Husner:

Awesome. We'll include all your links in our show notes, and we appreciate you very much if anybody wants to contact Andy and I you can go to Alex and Annie podcast.com. And until next time, thank you everybody for tuning in. And we'll see you next time.

Annie Holcombe:

Thanks Pete.

Pete DiMaio:

Thanks for watching, guys.

Pete Dimaio Profile Photo

Pete Dimaio

Vice President- Director Client Services & Marketing TravelBoom

Pete DiMaio is the vice president and director of marketing at TravelBoom. With TravelBoom, Pete takes an analytics approach to hotel marketing and works tirelessly to ensure his clients are able to drive occupancy, increase RevPAR, and improve direct bookings; all while providing a granular level of reporting that proves the return on investment. Pete has over two decades of experience in hospitality marketing from both the traditional and digital sides of the business. Pete is active in the hospitality community both with HSMAI and as the host of the Hotel Marketing Podcast.