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Cornell study gives hotels mixed grades during the blackout of `03

A new study by Cornell Professor Robert Kwortnik found that hotel managers and staff provided extraordinary personal service during…

A new study by Cornell Professor Robert Kwortnik found that hotel managers and staff provided extraordinary personal service during the blackout in August 2003, but that many properties experienced significant operating failures



Kwortnik studied 93 hotels, from economy to luxury properties, that lost power when the outage struck in the northeastern United States and Canada. On average, hotels were blacked out for 16 hours, with a maximum power loss of two days. In many hotels backup power to critical emergency systems failed after several hours. One-quarter of the hotels surveyed had standby power to operate wide sections of the hotel, but those auxiliary systems failed for some properties.

Many hotels lost their ability to cook. Some had gas-fired stoves but still could not prepare hot meals because they had no way to vent cooking exhaust. Most hotel staffs made do with cold food service, and some set up grills outside or even ordered in food.



Hoteliers reported that they switched over to manual operation for many functions, including check-in and billing and escorting guests to their rooms by flashlight. In cases where water supplies failed, some carried buckets for sanitary purposes such as flushing toilets.



All hotels reported accommodating guests, whether they had reservations or were walk-ins. When rooms were full, some properties sheltered guests in public spaces. The study showed that most hotels provided guests with extraordinary personal attention and assistance during this difficult time, Professor Kwortnik commented. Nevertheless, the range of facilities and operational problems revealed by this study is unsettling and suggests that service quality and the guest experience were compromised at many hotels.



Hoteliers almost unanimously believed, however, that they had met or exceeded guests` expectations by housing them and in some cases feeding them, just as if power was on. In the wake of the blackout, many hotels said they would update their emergency plans and build an inventory of blackout items, such as flashlights and batteries. However, the most frequent response to the question, What will be done? was, Nothing.



A number of hoteliers considered the blackout to be a one-time event, yet, extended power outages due to weather and other factors are more common than people think, Kwortnik said. Other hotel managers believed that they could not really plan for such a situation.



Kwortnik concludes, though, that by not planning for the recurrence of such circumstances, hoteliers are placing their trust on what got them through the blackout-their employees. Based on findings revealed in this study, Kwortnik highlights a wide variety of actions hotel managers can take today to safeguard the service delivery system and better prepare for emergency events in the future.



This report should be required reading for hotel owners and managers, commented Tom Riegelman, Vice President of Engineering at Hyatt Hotels Corporation. It`s eye opening just how unprepared some hoteliers were for dealing with the blackout, but also how remarkably well others did in responding to the challenge. The recommendations that emerge from this study provide a roadmap for emergency planning that most any hotelier would be wise to consider.



The hotels examined in this study were drawn from the Smith Travel Research (STR) database. STR has a strategic alliance with The Center for Hospitality Research to develop a series of research studies that seek to unravel some of the hotel industry`s thorniest questions.

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