Are Employees Hurting your PR?

September 9, 2008

I just returned from a glorious week in Hawaii filled with lava flows, sunscreen and more sunshine than Seattle sees all summer. Each year, my husband and I visit our favorite hotel on Maui – the Fairmont Kea Lani. For those of you who haven’t been to Maui, you’re certainly missing out! But, unlike our last few visits (which we’ve raved about to friends and family), this visit lacked the luster of previous years based on noticeable changes at the hotel. Service was slow, employees weren’t as friendly, and the pool and beach – previous hotel hot spots – seemed almost empty compared to previous visits. Out of curiosity, we decided to ask a few employees about these observations. Here’s what we learned:

–The hotel had been purchased by Marriott, but is still branded and operated by Fairmont
–Capacity is at 30% this June. The hotel is typically at maximum capacity this month.
–A large percentage of hotel managers were laid off during our stay; more layoffs are on the way.
–Given the low capacity, the hotel started selling rooms on discount travel Websites – a first for the hotel.

We were amazed at the level of detailed information provided by the hotel staff, especially information that I would consider not only negative, but confidential. I was also shocked that employees sometimes freely offered this information – they didn’t even need a question to prompt them.

What people often fail to realize is that good and bad PR often begins with a company’s staff. Even in the face of a downturn, companies that can sustain a positive company culture and strong morale will have a better chance at coming out on top and creating a positive buzz.

In this instance, employees were damaging the Fairmont brand which is usually known for its landmark properties and first-class service. Instead of hearing about layoffs, low capacity and change in ownership to a second tier hotel operator, we should have been spoon fed information about improvements at the hotel since our last visit and new amenities that would encourage us to schedule a return trip. While these employee comments may not be as loud or in your face as a negative story in a travel magazine, they are slowly damaging the brand over time – chipping away at a carefully built image piece by piece. And not only are these comments hurting the brand, they are potentially impacting the bottom line as consumers have their choice of numerous luxury hotels on Maui.

Hopefully, the Kea Lani will quickly find new ways to improve employee morale in the chance that the next person asking questions is a reporter, not a PR person.

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