Preparing to be an “Evacuation Destination”
When a natural disaster strikes, affected locations and surrounding areas have to manage the sudden displacement of evacuees and then often the surge of emergency responders from the other direction. With some preparation and open communication, your destination can turn what could be a frantic experience into one that is well planned and accommodating. Read time: 3 minutes
During times of natural disasters, the role of the DMOs in the paths of evacuees and emergency responders is to ensure that your destination is prepared for a sudden influx of visitors, and to make the entire experience for this unexpected surge of visitors as smooth as possible. Following the displacement caused by several natural disasters in 2017, Stamp reached out to several DMO clients along evacuation routes to find out how they prepared to host evacuees and emergency responders. Below are some words of advice they had to share.
As an impending disaster unfolds, news and weather outlets are valuable sources of predictive information. Keeping track of weather developments allows you time to prepare hotels, restaurants, attractions, and DMO staff for the influx of people potentially coming to your city.
- Start compiling a list of hotels with availability. Contact your local accommodations as well as your peers at neighboring DMOs to check hotel availability and update your list accordingly. One CVB we talked to had a large grid on a sheet of (old-school) paper. Their team divided properties and they each called the cell phones of designated hotel staff and updated the sheet twice daily for availability so frontline DMO staff could better serve inquiries.
- Contact your State Tourism Office. They may have additional information and resources that can help your DMO during this time.
- Work cooperatively. In Albany, GA, for example, several local attractions offered up their entire properties to accommodate evacuees arriving from Florida in RVs.
Make information readily accessible. Create a landing page on your website dedicated to providing the most up-to-date information to evacuees headed your way. Make sure your staff is well-informed, promote your efforts on social media and provide this information to local media outlets. The list is going to change hour-by-hour and sometimes minute-by-minute, but you need to start somewhere. If (and when) your city reaches capacity, provide information for the next destination, let evacuees know how long it may take to get there and provide information about stops along the way.
Partnering with key stakeholders, board members and city officials will ensure that your destination is able to offer a seamless experience as evacuees start pouring in.
- Get everyone on the same page — convene elected leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, the media, the EMA office, and first responders. Making sure everyone is on the same page, equipped with the same information and the same talking points widens your coverage. As these entities share information across their social channels, the reach is that much greater and accurate. When Hurricane Irma hit, the Montgomery, Alabama CVB partnered with their local EMA office so that they could share information about shelter locations and other relief services.
- Involve your stakeholders and board members. Make sure they understand how important it is to share information within their networks. Ask them to share your DMO’s social media posts on their personal and business pages to amplify the message and broaden your reach.
Partner with restaurants and attractions so that evacuees can receive special pricing, discounts and/or services during their time in your city. In an effort to help evacuees get their minds off of what was happening back home and to cut down on the unexpected expense of evacuating, one CVB we talked to compiled a list of evacuee specials and posted it to their website and social channels. Several attractions with capacity in another DMO provided discounted rates for evacuees. Another DMO explained that hotels in their area went above and beyond to make the evacuees more comfortable by bringing in catered food and providing board games so that guests could have activities when they congregated in the lobby (and they will!).
Here Comes the Cavalry
And hold on to your bootstraps, if you are in the path of evacuees, it is highly likely you may be also be in the path of a second wave of visitors coming from the other direction. These are the volunteers, linemen and contractors on their way to help repair devastated homes, businesses and infrastructure. While they may only be in your city for a day or two, it may be one of the last places that carries the essentials they need.
After You Roll Up The Red Carpet
Once the dust settles a bit, make a concerted effort to provide a forum to discuss how your city handled the entire process. Follow up with your staff and key stakeholders about what worked, what didn’t and what can be improved the next time. Planning ahead ensures that you are prepared should your city become an "evacuation destination" in the future. Also consider compiling all this intel and reaching out to your local media - this could be a great opportunity for a "feel-good" story about your city coming together. And it only makes sense (and never hurts) for the CVB to be the spokesperson about the economic impact of these visitors in your destination. Hopefully, natural disasters will not affect your area of the country very often. But when they do, your DMO should be as prepared as possible to lead the charge of welcoming the surges of visitors that may come as a result to your city.