A Helping Hand: Providing Community Support in a Crisis

When disaster or tragedy strike, local businesses are often eager to assist, providing help with immediate needs and ongoing healing. Tourism and hospitality businesses are particularly well poised to make an impact, as accommodation and food are often two urgent necessities for those affected and for emergency services personnel and volunteers.

After April’s tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash, several area hotels offered free stays to those affected. Such a generous offer comes with important considerations:

  • Are staff members prepared to assist grieving families and friends?
  • Are there enough staff members available to help with the increased needs?
  • Are any staff members themselves affected? Will they need time off and/or counselling?
  • Which amenities are helpful? Which are not?
  • How can a business get word out to those who need the help or those who want to help, without seeming to capitalize on the tragedy?
  • How can local management coordinate an offer for help with a parent company?
  • How can (or should) a business make sure a guest’s need for help is genuine, such as asking for proof of residence?
  • How long should an offer remain available?
  • How can staff continue to serve current or imminent patrons?

As reported by Canadian Lodging News, the Travelodge Saskatoon followed several steps to ensure their guests were treated with the utmost care. Employees were provided with training to interact with guests as delicately as possible. A conference room was set aside for people to have a communal space in which to gather. Media were turned away. A mental health service was called to offer support.

Natural disasters have also led to similar offers to help. Hotels in areas affected by the wildfires in BC (2017) and Fort McMurray and surrounding communities (2016) were quick to provide discounted rooms to evacuees and out-of-town emergency crews. Restaurants donated meals. West Jet and Air Canada offered discounted rates and flexible cancellation policies. Businesses far and wide ran fundraisers to help the victims.

The attacks at a music festival in Las Vegas, the Boston Marathon, or tourist hotspots such as Nice and Barcelona, all highlight the importance of tourism businesses ensuring all staff have basic training in the event of a local incident—being able to provide an immediate safe space to tourists and locals involved, and then staying involved as it becomes clear what help is needed.

How can you ensure your business is prepared to help?

Provide training: All staff should know whom to call and what local resources are available in the event of any type of emergency. Onboarding should include an overview of how best to interact with anyone seeking help in a crisis. Have printed resources readily accessible, in case power is affected. Should an incident arise, provide more in-depth training specific to the crisis—pull in experts, such as grief counsellors, as needed.

Access local expertise: Ask emergency services how your business can best be of service, contact volunteer groups to see if they need specific items or resources, tap into counselling services to ask about dos and don’ts.

Be genuine: When a Halifax-area franchisee of a national chain advertised green and gold donuts to honour victims of the Humboldt crash, it was revealed that the proceeds were not going to the fund for the team. The incident was later clarified, but the reputational damage was done. Make sure everyone recognizes this is an opportunity to give back to the community, not an opportunity to drum up sales.

Contribute in a meaningful way: If community organizations announce they are overwhelmed with clothing donations for evacuees, look at ways to help organize or distribute the donations, such as freeing up a meeting room to sort the goods or providing paid time off for staff members to assist.

Follow up: A community will not heal as soon as emergency personnel head home. Blood drives, fundraisers, and commemorative events all make sure the affected parties do not feel forgotten and maintain a positive relationship with the community. Be sure to also check in with your staff—keep the lines of communication open to see if anyone needs help working through the emotions of being part of a crisis.

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