Another kind of hotel reputation management
Another kind of hotel reputation management
13 MAY 2014 6:05 AM

A PR crisis like the one facing the Dorchester Collection could strike your hotel at any time. A strong crisis plan might be your only defense.

A hotel’s reputation can turn on a dime, and often there’s little an owner or operator can do about it. That’s a fact of life for an industry as public as hotels, particularly in light of the 24/7 media-centric nature of society.
That point hit home in the past two weeks for management and employees of hotels in the Dorchester Collection, a portfolio of luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, as activists, celebrities, politicians and media pundits have called for—and acted on—boycotts of the hotels.
The issue is simple and complex at once. Brunei recently passed a series of laws based on strict Islamic beliefs that, among other things, call for harsh penalties, i.e., death by stoning for adulterous and homosexual acts. The most severe sections of the criminal codes, including the sanctions on adultery and homosexuality, go into effect next year.
The Dorchester Collection includes eight hotels in Europe, but the effects of the boycott have been felt the most in Beverly Hills, California, where it has two properties: the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, both of which are popular with the community’s entertainment, fashion and arts industries.
At least popular until two weeks ago. 
Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno, and entrepreneur and soon-to-be-hotelier Richard Branson have championed the boycott. A number of arts and entertainment groups also have cancelled planned events at the properties.
The Beverly Hills City Council, cognizant of the economic value of the hotels to the city yet sympathetic to the cause, has called for the Sultan to sell the hotels, an outcome that seems most probable in the long term.
In the meantime, you’ve got to pity the GMs, sales staffs and all employees of those two properties. Obviously, they weren’t part of any decisions related to laws in far-off Brunei, but their livelihoods and reputations are at stake. In an attempt to stanch the damage, the hotels last week hired a one-time public relations consultant to former President Bill Clinton, a man who knows a thing or two about bad publicity.
The scenario could unfold in any location and affect any hotel. Whether you’re a hotelier in Portland or Portugal, you might have sympathy for your brethren in the Dorchester family, but you also might think it couldn’t happen to you.
It could. Something you, your owner, your operator, an employee or even a guest does at your hotel could have repercussions throughout your community, region and, just as easily, around the world. The possibilities are nearly endless: reports of bedbugs in your hotel, police busting a meth lab in one of your guestrooms, your bell staff running a prostitution ring out of your hotel and a lot more.
It’s impossible to prevent something like this from happening, although it’s the legal and moral duty of hotel owners and operators to try to stop anything illegal, immoral or unseemly from happening in their hotels.
The best defense is a solid crisis communications plan that is prepared and updated regularly by professionals, namely your public relations department or agency or an outside consultant. This plan will give operators the guidance necessary to keep a bad situation from becoming worse.
Stuff happens, and a lot of it happens in hotels. While operators can’t always control the actions of employees, guests and outsiders, they need to know how to clean up the messes when they happen.
Email Ed Watkins or find him on Twitter.
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  • Simonvk May 13, 2014 6:59 AM

    With this week's second crisis surrounding the leaking of security video from New York's Standard Hotel, your points are apt. While The Standard has rightly been very protective of its guests' behaviour in its famed Boom Boom Room, the recording (presumably on a smart phone by an employee with access to the security camera monitors), has shown that they can't control all circumstances. However their statement deploring the leak and probable sale of the video to TMZ was honest, forthright and helped limit any long term damage to them. I know these are two very different crises but so far The Standard's management of their issue is a long way ahead of Christopher Cowdray's & The Dorchester Group's.

  • Scott Brush May 14, 2014 4:29 AM

    A good warning.

  • Anonymous May 16, 2014 9:21 AM

    Bravo Ed. This is the most prevalent reputation management there is and hoteliers often don't realize the importance of crisis communication until its too late. As for Simonvk, you are spot on, too. The Standard has apparently fired the employee who leaked the video of JayZ getting smacked around. Good for them. Part of a crisis communication plan for hotels that host celebrities is to ensure they know the consequences of violating the privacy of any guest--whether they're famous or the girl next door.

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