News

Tourism businesses assess disaster readiness

By: Chandra Wright / Published: Mar 02,  2017

Does your business depend on tourists? If so, do you know how quickly you could get your business up and running if a disaster strikes during your busy season? On January 19, 2017, 15 owners and key management personnel from eight tourism-dependent businesses in coastal Alabama attended a three-hour workshop to conduct a self-assessment designed to help answer that question.

As Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium’s nature tourism specialist, I facilitated the workshop using the Tourism Resilience Index, which was developed by MASGC in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center, Gulf of Mexico Alliance, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Dewberry and several leaders from the tourism industry.

The assessment covers these six areas: Business and Operations Plans; Disaster Preparedness Plans; Marketing; Workforce; Federal, State and Local Resources; and Resource Access and Knowledge. Each category contains several “yes” or “no” questions designed to get businesses thinking about the “what ifs” that may come with an unexpected catastrophe.

That catastrophe could be anything from the unexpected unavailability of an owner or key employee, a crash of your computer system, a power outage that takes away your credit-card processing capability, to a fire, tornado, tropical storm, hurricane, or any other number of situations that could affect just your business, a few businesses in your area or an entire community.

At the conclusion of the questions, the total number of “yes” answers for each section is tabulated to determine whether the business has a “low,” “medium” or “high” level of resilience for that section. A business can then readily identify particular items it might want to address to boost its resilience ahead of a disaster.

The scores are intended for each individual business and are not shared or compared with other businesses. However, if scoring trends show several similar businesses need assistance in a particular area, future programs may be held to assist those businesses.  

Here's a photo from our January workshop.
(Photo credit: Yolanda Johnson)
Here's a photo from our January workshop. (Photo credit: Yolanda Johnson)

While the assessment is designed for a facilitator to work with one business at a time, the Jan. 19 workshop brought together several businesses, including lodging rental companies, restaurants, retail establishments, and attractions, in an informal setting to encourage discussion and sharing of lessons learned and best practices.

Each business had its own workbook to write down its responses and make notes for things to research or address further. Individual follow-up appointments were available for businesses that wanted to address something outside of the group discussion.

 Although many of the businesspeople present had decades of experience, they each saw value in conducting a periodic review of the assessment items to see where they can continue to make improvements. There were also a few businesses represented that had recently opened or had new ownership or management without first-hand experience in preparing for or recovering from a disaster.

Herb Malone, president/CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, speaks to the group about some of the lessons he has learned in more than 20 years of running businesses in coastal Alabama. 
(Photo credit: Yolanda Johnson)
Herb Malone, president/CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, speaks to the group about some of the lessons he has learned in more than 20 years of running businesses in coastal Alabama. (Photo credit: Yolanda Johnson)

At the conclusion of the workshop, all of the businesses agreed that it had been useful to conduct the review and left with a list of items they needed to investigate to see whether they were in fact as prepared as they thought.

Several resources were also presented for the businesses to use to turn their weaknesses to strengths. Yolanda Johnson with the Alabama Small Business Development Center and Brent McMahan with the United States Small Business Administration were also on hand to provide information about the services they can each provide.

If your business is interested in conducting your own self-assessment, the Tourism Resilience Index workbook may be found here. Other assessment workbooks are available for fisheries-based businesses, for ports and for coastal communities.

Not sure you want to tackle the assessment on your own? Trained facilitators are available to come to your location to assist you in answering the questions or brainstorm challenges or solutions which may be unique to your business.

If you are part of a business chamber or other business association and would like to schedule a workshop for businesses in your community, we can accommodate that request as well. To schedule an individual assessment or small-group workshop, or for more information, please contact me at cwright@gulfshores.com or (251) 974-4634. 

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