I was tempted to write a top ten list of what lodging hosts should know about black outs and snow storm procedures. There is a huge responsibility associated with managing expectations during black outs and keeping guests safe and comfortable. There are millions of blog posts about storm preparedness and top ten items to have on hand. Many of these lists have the logical items, blankets, batteries and water. There are some new items like UPS (uninterruptible power supply) chargers and government websites for any kind of emergency preparedness (ready.gov). Although these things are important, I could not justify making another listicle. I instead wanted to write about the reward a business could have when they are prepared for an environmental event. Your social network and your Inns inherent romance are the building blocks to weathering the storm.
The famous 1944 song by Frank Loesser “Baby its Cold Outside” and the more recent 2006 Mark Erelli song “Snowed In”, both express the fun that can be had when you are hunkered down with the one you love. The lyrics to “Snowed In” tell the story of a man that drives all night, through a storm, just to be snowed in with the one he loves. If your lodging can accommodate winter guests, you will not regret meeting these people that thrive on the adventure of a snow storm. A big warm, cozy bed, comfortable sitting chairs, wine glasses and a Jotel propane fireplace, set the scene for winter time romance. The hardcore winter guest won’t even care if there is a t.v. in the room. These guests like to read traditional paper books. This brings me to the unromantic work that is done to maintain the passionate hibernaculum. The batteries must be charged in the thermostat, fire and carbon monoxide detectors, the flashlights must be accessible and the Internet modem should be backed up with a UPS so the love birds can stream soothing music. A battery operated light should be made available so the guest can read. A sign discouraging candles is unromantic, but absolutely necessary. If you can control the obvious details, the warmth will be made between the inhabitants.
In the morning the love doves will want a hot cup of coffee and breakfast. If your coffee machine is not working because of the black out, the traditional stove coffee pot that you keep in the closet will come in handy. Hopefully you have a stove that works without electricity and you can cook something up. If you get notice of the storm, load up on muffins, fruit and croissants. The guests can bring these pre-made items to their rooms and sit by their propane fireplaces. You could prepare a full breakfast, but it might be cold sitting in a big formal dining room.
Your social network is the best asset in managing sales and expectations of pre arrival guests. Any innkeeper will tell you, if a storm is brewing, the phone is ringing. Sometimes guest wait to see what the forecast will be before making a reservation. If the forecast is bad, they will not come. When potential travelers hear any chance of snow, they delay plans. Anyone with pre-made reservation usually calls first before they cancel to find out the policy. Usually the guest does not like the reality of cancel fees and instantly you have an unhappy camper. Of course if the traveler has travelers insurance, they are fine with any fees incurred. Most people, in my experience, do not get travel insurance for their bed and breakfast weekend getaway. So before the phone starts ringing, get on your social networks, tweet and post pictures of the lovely snow and the wine glasses waiting for your guests. A few years back, I was getting a lot of cancellations because there was a hurricane in the forecast. I was so discouraged from refunding many reservation that I wrote a sarcastic Facebook post. I wrote that the Inn was over 100 years old and has seen many hurricanes. In fact, I was pleased to be in a building that has proven its strength time and time again. One of the guests saw my post and called back and remade their reservation. They understood my reasoning and wanted to hunker down in a strong historic home. I was so pleased to keep that reservation. Since then, I do not hesitate to post picture of the snow, fireplace, and the reality of the street conditions. Posting videos on your YouTube page will help set expectations of your destination.
Another time Facebook saved the day for this Innkeeper was 3 years ago. The Toboggan Nationals bring hundreds of people to the mid coast in February. In 2013 the town was in a white out. The plow trucks could not keep up with the snow. The inns and hotels were full. My B&B had electricity so I was pleased that I did not have to manage black out conditions. The issue I had was that the downtown of Camden was shut down. With the downtown closed, the guests had no place to eat lunch or dinner. I called my friends that owned restaurants and asked them if they were going to open, and they said absolutely not because they couldn’t even get to their front doors. I called the Select Board members and pleaded with them to put crews on shoveling out the downtown. They told me they had to focus the Town energy on keeping the roads clear for emergencies. I was nervous that I was going to provide lunch and dinner in addition to breakfast for the 18 toboggan competitors staying at the Inn. I told my guests to eat as much breakfast as they wanted because I was not sure where their next meal would come from. Finally, the bars in town put a call out, via social network, to local patrons for help shoveling a path to the establishments. Around 3 pm, I got the message that the locals were shoveling the path to beer and food. My guests one by one walked out the front door and down the middle of Rt 1 to the downtown. I was so relieved.
The next time a weather event threatens your income, try to find a positive to promote. It definitely will not be easy clearing your property of snow through the day to make entry and exits easy, but the winter adventure experience you create will last a lifetime for many guests, they might even write a song about it.